© 2005-2010 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 3

Skyler was a nervous wreck. This wasn't his first time on a plane but it had been a very turbulent flight, and he couldn't wait for it to be over. He was also about to be in New York City for the very first time in his life and didn't know what to expect. From movies he'd been shown that New York was one of the most dangerous places in America. Would he get mugged? His mind came up with all sorts of scenarios that could befall him at the drop of a hat in New York.

He'd said goodbye to Linda and Shelly before the cab had driven him to the airport. His goodbye to Mark had been private and tear filled. The two friends had bared their souls to each other the night before and cried on each other's shoulders. They truly were like brothers now. There were no secrets between them. Skyler had told Mark his most important secret, and he was still a little stunned that Mark accepted it, accepted and him. He realized that night that he really loved Mark. Not the way he would love another man. He loved Mark like a brother. He loved him like a friend.

It was going to be hard for Skyler to live on his own. This would be the first time he'd ever lived anywhere without another person with him. He wished that he could have brought Mark with him. That would have made him feel a bit more comfortable with living in New York. But Mark was back in LA, and there was no point in wishing for things that wouldn't happen. Mark had all but turned down Laura's offer to model or act. He wasn't going to be moving to New York.

When the plane finally landed in New York Skyler was happier than he'd been since he'd woke up that morning. He waited until everyone behind him was out of their seats before getting up and retrieved his carry on bag. He followed the people down the isle and out of the plane. He didn't know how he would find Laura if she wasn't at the gate, but he was so happy to be off the plane that he didn't think about that for too long. Laura would find him. He was sure of that much.

"How was your flight?" she asked, startling him as soon as he'd come through the gate.

"Turbulent," he replied with a sigh. "We shook more than dice in a gambler's fist in Vegas."

"I like that one," she chuckled as he followed her to the baggage claim. "Hope you're not afraid of a little rain."

"I grew up in Detroit," he laughed. "Rained plenty there."

"Yes I imagine it did," she said as they collected his boxes and suitcases. She found someone to put his boxes and bags on a cart, and the man followed them outside into the rain.

Skyler's first look at New York was soggy and cold. He hoped that the weather would get better soon. He wanted to see some of the city, but he didn't think running around in the rain sounded like fun. Besides he'd likely get a cold if he did that. He didn't think the studio would be too happy with him if he showed up for his first day of filming with a cold.

"Here are the keys to your apartment," said Laura, handing him a set of keys as soon as they were in her SUV. "I didn't know what to buy for food, so you'll have to go shopping. I can take you if you want."

"Thank you," he said. "How big is the apartment?"

"Well I don't know how long you'll actually live there, so I had them find a two bedroom," she said. "There's a dining room, kitchen, living room and office as well."

"Wow," he said, smiling. "It sounds like a house."

"You'll like it I'm sure," she laughed. "I went over to check it out as soon as I got back to New York."

"When do I have to start filming?" he asked. That was on his mind a lot since he woke up.

"Wednesday," she said. "It was going to be Monday morning like you were originally told, but they've decided to do a bit of marketing first. They'll do a few test scenes before you start filming for the show to warm you up. They're also thinking of having you sing a song. I'm supposed to discuss that with you."

"Sing?" he asked, looking at her. "I haven't done any singing since high school."

"You said you hadn't done any acting since high school too," she countered, and he laughed.

"I have a tape of the music and a sheet with the words of the song they want you to sing," she said. "Don't worry, though. If you're really not comfortable with singing they'll find someone to sing the song for you and you can lip sync."

"I'll keep that in mind," he said.

The idea of singing didn't really bother him actually. He knew that he had a fairly good voice and when he had to sing in musicals, everyone loved it. To him it just depended on the words of the song. If he liked the song, he'd sing it for them and let them decide if he was good enough. He was getting a little more comfortable with the idea of being on the show too. He supposed that he could make his living in a lot worse ways than acting.

"I've scheduled a photo shoot and small interview with a magazine for Monday afternoon," she said. "You have today and tomorrow to settle into your apartment before you have to get to work. Interviews and public appearances are just as much work as the show will be, so remember that."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied.

"On Tuesday you'll actually be at the studio for part of the day," she said. "They want to take measurements for wardrobe. That won't take long, so I've booked another photo shoot for that afternoon as well."

"Sounds like I have a busy week ahead of me," he said with only a bit of discomfort.

"I plan to make you a star, Skyler," she said, looking at him for a second as she drove. "That'll take a lot of exposure, and I know all about exposure. You'll have photo shoots, interviews and personal appearances a lot for a while. If you sing the song, and sing it well, I plan to promote the hell out of it. I'll push for the studio to release it as a single for sure."

"So they'll play the song on the radio?" he asked.

This was all happening pretty fast but he had nothing to compare it to, so he thought perhaps this was the way that it was supposed to go. He'd decided that he would do his best in whatever Laura wanted him to do, and he wasn't going to chicken out on anything. All there was to do was suck it up and do his job now. He was going to make them believe he was worth every penny they paid him.

"If I have anything to say about it they will," she said. "What do you think about a music video?"

"I'm not sure," he admitted. It was one thing to act in front of a camera. Pretending to sing in front of a camera was another matter. "I'll give it my best try though."

"I get the feeling that you're going to be my favorite client," she chuckled. "Do you ever argue?"

"I will if you ask me to do something that I'm completely against or uncomfortable with," he told her. "Right now I figure you know more about show business than I do, so I'll go along with what you've set up for me."

"Very good answer," she laughed.

Not long after that Skyler experienced his first real traffic jam. He'd never really been in Los Angeles traffic, so he didn't know if it ever got this congested. There were cars everywhere and nothing was moving. Laura assured him that it was normal and they'd be on their way again before long. He settled back in his seat and waited it out.

"We need to get you to the bank on Monday, too," she said. "You have to open an account before they can pay you, and since you probably don't have a lot of money on you I think it would be best if they paid you fast."

"They're going to pay me for episodes I haven't filmed yet?" he asked, looking at her hard. He hadn't even dreamed that he'd be paid before he did anything.

"You signed the contract, Skyler," she said. "You'll be paid for the episodes you agreed to film. If you break the contract they'll sue, so they aren't too worried."

"I never go back on my word," he said. "So my signature on that contract will make me fulfill the requirements."

"Well that's good to hear," she said. "Because if you break this contract you're likely to never work in television again."

"I won't break any contract if I can help it," he said. "And I think I want to do more than television too."

"Well after you've been on the show for a while I'll see if I can get you a movie deal," she said. "It would be hard to get you a part in a movie at this point. You have the song to think about too. If you do well I might be able to get you a record deal."

"I don't know if music would be my career choice," he said. "I'm not ruling it out though."

He wasn't going to rule anything out. It had occurred to him on the plane that show business could be his ultimate escape from Detroit and the painful memories he had of his life there. If he could sink all of that into his work then it might pay off in more ways than one for him. He just had to get used to people looking at him all of the time and paying so much attention to him. If he could do that, he thought he might be able to do just about anything.

"If you've got a voice you should use it," she said as traffic started to move again. "A little musical fame won't kill you."

"No it won't," he said with a smile. "I just don't know how ready I am for all of this."

"The question is, how ready is the world for you?" she replied with a smile of her own. "I want to have your name on everyone's mind."

"Do you think that's likely to happen very fast?" he asked.

"We'll have to see," she said. "But if you're half as talented as I've heard that you are I don't think it will be a problem."

When they got to the apartment building Skyler was shocked to learn that it faced Central Park. Laura explained that he could afford it due to a deal she'd struck with the owner, and he might as well live in style. She told him about a market that was just down the street and all of the amenities available in the area as they rode the elevator to the tenth floor.

The apartment was huge. His statement about it sounding like a house wasn't far from the reality. The living room was larger than most he'd seen in his life, and there was a terrace as well. He couldn't believe it. The room was furnished with two over stuffed recliners, a matching couch, four end tables, one on each side of the recliners and couch and a coffee table. An entertainment center took up almost all of one wall, and there was a large television, video equipment and a stereo housed inside.

The kitchen was the room he saw next, and he was stunned to silence when they walked into the room. Just about every kitchen appliance he could think of called the room home, and there was an oven in the wall right next to the huge stove. An island sat in the center of the kitchen with a cutting board on one end and a double sink took the other end. A dishwasher was housed under the counter that nearly lined the entire room, and there was a nook in one corner.

The dining room was very nicely decorated in dark colors with a large cherry wood table in the center. It sat on a Persian rug that covered the center of the hard wood floor. There was another terrace off of this room, and Skyler couldn't believe he'd ever have use of either one of them. He liked the size of the rooms he'd seen, but he had no idea what he would do with so much space.

Both bedrooms had queen sized beds in them with chests of drawers and walk in closets. The master bedroom had its own bathroom with a tub in the floor that Laura called a jacuzzi and a shower in one corner. Another bathroom was across the hall from the smaller bedroom and it had a standard tub and shower unit along the wall opposite the door. Everything in both bathrooms was either porcelain or brass and white. The bedrooms had hard wood floors like the rest of the apartment and white walls.

The office had a huge desk in the center of the room with floor to ceiling windows behind it. There were shelves of books along one wall and another entertainment center with equipment along the other. Two ladder back chairs sat in front of the desk, and he was shocked to see both a typewriter and computer on the desk.

Laura drove him to a grocery store where they set up a delivery account for him after they'd shopped for enough food to fill his kitchen. She explained that he'd often be too busy to go to the store, so the delivery service would come in handy. She also recommended finding a house keeper to take care of the apartment for him. She reminded him that he'd be traveling, and the apartment would need cleaning every week while he was away. He couldn't imagine what kind of traveling he would be doing since the show was filmed on a studio lot right there in the city, but he agreed to at least think about a house keeper.

Once Laura helped him take all of the groceries up to the apartment, she left to take care of some personal things. Skyler was alone in his apartment for the first time. The first thing he noticed was how quiet it was in the apartment. Laura had left the tape of the music for the song they wanted him to sing along with the sheet of lyrics, so he looked his stereo over and figured out how everything worked. He put the cassette in and pushed play. The music was nice, and he picked up the sheet of lyrics and read them while he listened.

Thought I heard your voice yesterday
I couldn't think of anything to say
Your memory leaves my heart shaken
Its been a year since you were taken
Life without you is dark and cold
My heart breaks every time our story's told
I wonder how I can ever be free
And if your memory will ever just let me be

Just leave me alone and let me live my life
And don't pretend you don't realize
what the sound of your voice can do to my heart
Just looking at you tears me apart

My friends think I should go out again
Then your face comes to mind and I can't say when
Without you, my life is an emotional waste land
Remembering only the touch of your hand
Hours go by and I stare off into space
Just clutching the memory of your face

Just leave me alone and let me live my life
I can't go on like this and you know its not right
Being without you is breaking my heart
Thinking of you tears me apart

I'm here again to talk to you
I wonder what the hell I'm gonna do
I know that I have to get over you
My problem is that I just don't have a clue
How to rid my mind of fact that you're gone
So now to you, I sing this song

Just leave me alone and let me live my life
I can't let go of you and that's not right
Memories of you are breaking my heart
Talking about you tears me apart

Are you listening? Can you hear me?
You've got to break these chains and let me be
I can't go on like this every day
Life has to go on some way

Why won't you leave me alone and let me live my life
Your memory cuts through me just like a knife
I can't go on with this broken heart
Missing you tears me apart

Just leave me alone and let me live my life
And don't pretend you don't realize
What missing you does to my heart
Being without you tears me apart

By the time the music stopped, Skyler was nearly in tears. He liked the music and the lyrics, and he couldn't wait to try singing the song. He played the music again and sang the lyrics, making sure to match the harmony in the music, and when the song was over, he thought he'd done a pretty good job. He sang it a few more times to make sure that he had it the way he wanted it, and then he spotted the karaoke microphone hooked up to his stereo. There was a package of blank cassettes beside the dual cassette decks, so he put one in the recorder side of the decks and queued it. This time he recorded the song with him singing the lyrics.

When he'd finished recording it he played it back to listen. He thought it sounded great, and he thought about calling Laura to have her come back and listen but then his doorbell chimed. He thought that Laura had come back, but when he opened the door Brian Krause was standing on the other side, smiling at him.

"I came to welcome you to New York and see the apartment," he said, smiling. In his hands was a small fern. He held it up. "Housewarming gift."

"Come on in," chuckled Skyler. "You'll be my very first visitor."

"Didn't Laura come to see you today?" asked Brian as he came into the apartment, handing the fern to Skyler. "I thought she was meeting your plane."

"She did, but she'd already seen the apartment," explained Skyler. "You're actually the first person to come and visit me since I got here."

"Well I'm happy to be your first visitor," said Brian as he followed Skyler through the hall to the living room. "Wow this is nice."

"Yeah," beamed Skyler. "I couldn't believe it when I saw it. I still think I'm dreaming."

"Well I can assure you that you're wide awake," laughed Brian. "You'll get used to it soon."

"I haven't even unpacked yet," said Skyler. "My boxes and suitcases are in the bedroom waiting for me."

"You've got all day for that," said Brian.

"Do you want something to drink or anything?" asked Skyler as he sat the plant on the coffee table. With the light coming in through the sliding glass doors to the terrace, he was sure the plant would thrive as long as he could remember to water it.

"What do you have?" he asked.

"Well there are bottles of water in the refrigerator, soda and Laura made coffee before she left a little while ago," replied Skyler as they headed toward the kitchen.

"Water will be fine," said Brian. "Did you have your radio on when I came up? I thought I heard music coming from the apartment."

"No," said Skyler, blushing. "Laura told me that they want me to sing a song in the show, and she left a tape of the music and the lyrics were on a paper. I found a karaoke mic hooked to the stereo in the living room so I played the music and sang the lyrics while I recorded it. You probably heard the playback."

"That was you?" asked Brian, raising his eyebrows. Skyler nodded. "That sounded great. Would you play it again for me?"

Skyler handed a bottle of water to Brian and took one for himself before heading back to the living room. He was kind of embarrassed, but he figured that if he was going to sing the song for the show he'd have to actually sing it in front of people. Brian listening to a recording of it couldn't be too awful compared to that.

He rewound the tape and played it back for Brian while his heart beat faster than it ever had. He watched Brian's face for any indication of what he thought as the song played back. He still thought it sounded good, but he didn't know what Brian would think of it. By the time the song ended with Brian showing nothing on his face Skyler was sure he hated it.

"Be gentle," he half joked as he hit the stop button on the tape deck. He dreaded turning around because he was sure his face was red, but when he did turn around Brian was looking at him with a stunned expression.

"That's really good, Skyler," Brian said after a second. "Is there anything you can't do? I mean you blew us away in the audition, and now I find out that you can sing too, and with just as much power."

"You like it?" he asked.

"Like it?" breathed Brian. "Skyler, if they record the song you have to release it. It could be a hit."

Skyler told him what Laura said about maybe getting him a record deal if the song was good, and Brian thought it was a great idea. He told Skyler that he could be a huge star in no time. Brian seemed to think that Skyler would go far really quickly. Skyler wasn't so sure. They talked about it for over two hours. Brian continued to try and convince him that he could be a successful actor as well as a successful recording artist. Skyler just wanted to get through filming his first episode before he even thought about trying his hand at music.

"Are you hungry?" Skyler asked, changing the subject.

"I hadn't thought about it," replied Brian. "But I am hungry. Why?"

"Well I'm starved," laughed Skyler. "I haven't eaten since I arrived. Laura took me to the grocery store, so there's plenty of food. I can cook something."

"I've got a better idea," said Brian. "Can I use your phone?"

Brian called his favorite restaurant to make sure that they had a table available. He asked them to hold it for him, and then he was leading Skyler to the elevator, telling him all about the pasta at Gabitoni's. They talked more in Brian's car about Skyler recording the song, and by the time they reached the restaurant he was actually excited about the prospect of recording it. They stopped at Brian's apartment so he could change, and he loaned Skyler a pair of dress pants, shirt and a jacket to wear.

Skyler liked Brian's apartment, but it was much smaller than his. There was only one bedroom, but he didn't get to see much more than that. They were in an out as soon as they were both dressed. He did see racing posters on the living room walls. Brain explained that racing was a passion for him, and he said that Skyler should come and watch him race some time.

The restaurant was very busy. The manager had held a table for them in the back of the large dining room, and they were led to the table quickly. A waiter took their drink orders and handed them menus. Skyler looked around and was impressed with the decor of the place. The carpet was dark green with burgundy diamonds in rows, and the tables were covered with table cloths that matched the carpet almost perfectly. The chairs were comfortable, and the wait staff was dressed in black pants and tuxedo shirts with black bow ties.

"They have really great food here," said Brian as he picked up his menu. "I eat here as often as I can."

"The food certainly smells good," replied Skyler, looking at his menu.

"Dinner is on me, so order whatever you like," said Brian with a smile as he watched Skyler's eyes grow large over prices. Skyler was about to protest, but Brian put an end to that. "You can return the favor some time."

Skyler looked at him for a few minutes, and he couldn't believe that he hadn't noticed how attractive Brian was. He'd always thought he was a good looking man, but this was the first time he'd actually looked at Brian. His blond hair was cut shorter than Skyler's, but his eyes sparkled when he smiled. Skyler had to drag his eyes away from him before Brian caught him staring at him.

He busied himself with trying to figure out what to eat. When the waiter returned Skyler ordered lasagna with garlic bread. Once he had the orders down the waiter excused himself, and Brian and Skyler sat in silence for a few minutes. Skyler was thinking about the song again. He was really looking forward to playing it for Laura. If she liked it half as much as Brian did he might actually believe that he had a shot at a singing career.

"Tell me about you, Skyler," said Brian, breaking their silence.

"You can call me Sky," replied Skyler. "What would like to know about me?"

"Well I know that up until yesterday you were living in Los Angeles where you were attending college, and now you're going to be working with me on the show," said Brian. "That's about all I know about you."

"OK," said Skyler with a smile. "I grew up in Detroit, but I got out of there as fast as I could. I have a little brother and sister there that I miss very much. I haven't seen them since I left for college."

"Why not?" asked Brian. "Didn't you go home for breaks?"

"No," he replied. "My family situation isn't good, but I call the twins every chance I get, and we write letters back and forth fairly regularly."

"You don't get along with your parents?" probed Brian, taking a sip of his water.

"Well, my dad left us when I was three," he said. "I barely remember him. My mother remarried, and that's where the trouble is. My step-father and I really don't like each other. My mother basically chose him over me when I left for college, so going home would be very uncomfortable."

"I'm very sorry to hear that, Sky," said Brian, looking at him with sincere eyes. "Family is very important, and I know that some are dealt a bad hand when it comes to their family. I hope that somehow things can change in that area for you."

"Thank you," replied Skyler, looking down at the table. "I just don't see anything changing at all."

"You said you barely remember your father," Brian pointed out. "Do you know what happened to make him leave home?"

"Well my mother tells me that my father was abusive," said Skyler. "She said that he never wanted children at all."

"You sound skeptical of that explanation," said Brian, looking at him hard.

"I just don't remember him well enough to argue with her about that," admitted Skyler. "But I don't think that's true. The one memory I have of my father is really great, and he wasn't abusive or even standoffish."

"Have you thought about tracking him down?" asked Brian. "Now that you're in New York you'll have the resources to do that. It could answer some of your questions about him."

"I never really considered tracking him down," said Skyler. "I guess I just believe that if he wanted to be found he would have found me somehow."

"Well just know that you can hire any detectives you need to look for him if you decide to change your mind," said Brian.

"I'll keep that in mind," replied Skyler. "Is there anything else about me that you'd like to know?"

"Anything you'd like to tell me," laughed Brian. "I don't want to make you feel like this is an inquisition or anything. I just think you're a really cool guy, and I'm trying to get to know you."

"It's fine," said Skyler with a smile. Brian wasn't making him feel uncomfortable. In truth Skyler was hoping that they could be friends. All of his friends were back in LA, and he needed someone to talk to and hang out with in New York.

"So you were in college," prompted Brian. "What were you studying for?"

"I'm hoping to get my degree in Business and Finance," replied Skyler. "When I first enrolled they seemed like the areas that I would do the best in, and that proved to be true."

"Will you be continuing your education here in New York?" asked Brian.

"Laura told me that she talked to the school and I can do my course work here and send off for tests and grades," explained Skyler. "She said it was some kind of special program that the college runs for students who gain success in show business before they graduate."

"That's a good program if you can get your degree," said Brian. "Education is important."

"Well I have to admit that I used college to get away from home," Skyler revealed. "Once I got there I really wanted to succeed and gain my degree."

"I think you'll get your degree," said Brian. "You seem like a determined person to me, Sky. You can do anything you set your mind to."

"So what about you?" asked Skyler. "All I really know about you is that you work on the show."

"Well I was born and raised in California," replied Brian. "I wanted to be a doctor, but the acting bug bit me too. I got the part in 'Return To the Blue Lagoon', and things just took off from there."

"You mentioned racing," said Skyler. "What got you interested in that?"

"I've always been interested," replied Brian, and Skyler could see that he'd hit a topic that Brian was passionate about. "I used to love to go to the races when I was a kid, and as soon as I could drive I wanted to race myself. You really can't get the thrill that comes from racing from anywhere else. It's exhilarating to be in the car, driving at speeds that you'd never normally try and winning a race is the most amazing feeling."

The waiter returned with their food, and they talked more about racing while they ate. Brian was very excited about the topic, and he told Skyler all about his very first race. He told Skyler that he should come to the track the next time he raced. Skyler told him he'd like that. What surprised him was that Brian also loved to play golf. Skyler had played miniature golf in Detroit, but Brian was talking about the real deal. He said that the game was relaxing if you didn't get into the competitive side of it and Skyler should try it some time.

Brian dropped Skyler off after dinner, but he promised to call him the next day. He said that if Skyler didn't find something to do he would take him sight seeing for the day. He told him that he couldn't live in New York without having seen everything there was to see. Skyler looked forward to that, and he enjoyed Brian's company. He hoped that they really were on the road to building a friendship.

Skyler spent the remainder of the evening unpacking his boxes and suitcases. He didn't have nearly enough clothes to fill his closet, but once his personal possessions were distributed throughout the apartment, it felt a little less like a stranger's place. He wondered if he would ever feel at home in the apartment. The idea seemed alien to him. He wasn't used to so much space.

He sat in his living room with pictures of his brother and sister on the shelves of the entertainment center and pictures taken at school of Mark, Shelly and Linda as well. He missed everyone already. He realized that though he was in one of the most heavily populated cities in the world he felt more alone than he ever had in his life. He thought again about getting a housekeeper.

Maybe he could find a live in housekeeper, but he knew that it would have to be someone that he felt he could trust. He didn't know if he'd ever be able to find someone that he liked enough to share his space with. The apartment was large enough that it probably wouldn't be a problem, but Skyler had only ever lived with one person he wasn't related to and that was Mark. He didn't think he'd ever find someone that he trusted and got along with as well as Mark. The idea seemed impossible.

Later, as he climbed into his queen sized bed and pulled the fluffy comforter over himself he thought again about how lonely he was. It had been one day and he was lonely. He wondered how he'd feel after a week or a month. The last thought he had before he fell asleep was that he wished Mark was with him.

* * *

"So, Skyler, this is your first break in show business," said Tamara O'Reily as her photographer snapped pictures of Skyler. He was standing there in a pair of bikini swim trunks against a seascape background. They were supposedly pushing the fact that he'd been discovered in California. "How many auditions did you go on before you were cast for the show?"

"That was my first audition," he replied as he tried not to blink every time the lights flashed in his eyes. "I'd never really given much thought to acting before Milton Drake talked to me in a diner."

"He found you in a diner?" said Tamara. "Were you working?"

"I was having lunch," he replied.

The day was flying by for him until he'd arrived and was faced with the black bikini trunks they wanted him to wear for the photo shoot. The fitting for wardrobe had gone pretty well, and he'd only been embarrassed twice while they measured just about every inch of him. James McClellon, the man in charge of wardrobe was in his fifties and slightly overweight. He had a bald head that shined under the lights of the studio, and his dull gray eyes drank Skyler in from head to toe when he walked into the dressing area.

All of this was going to take some getting used to, he thought when he was back in the tiny room they'd given him to change into the speedo when he'd arrived. Laura said that the interviews and photo shoots were going really well. She seemed to be happy with his attitude toward having his picture taken. They'd gone over lists of questions for both interviews, and they had discussed what his answers should be.

"You're a natural at this part, Sky," she said when they were back in her SUV, heading away from the interview. "You didn't answer with anything we hadn't discussed, and you weren't evasive with any of the questions. Tamara really seemed pleased."

"I wasn't so sure about standing around in those trunks while they took my picture," he said seriously. "I just tried not to think about it."

"You're a sexy guy, Sky," she said. "They're going to want to see as much of your body as they can. I'll admit that I thought the bikini was a bit much, but you didn't protest so I kept my mouth shut."

"Well I didn't want to be a pain," he explained. "I'm new at this, but I know enough about people to know that if you come off as combative nothing will ever get done."

"That's a good view to have," she said. "I wish my other clients were like you."

"What do we have to do next?" asked Skyler. He wanted to go home and hide for a while after being so exposed during the photo shoot. He just hoped she hadn't scheduled anything that he didn't know about.

"I thought we'd get something to eat," she said. "After that you're free for the day."

"Sounds good to me," he said, pulling the tape of the song that he'd recorded at home out of his pocket. "I wanted you to listen to something though."

"What's this?" she asked when he handed her the tape.

"I played that tape you gave me of the music for that song, and I used the karaoke microphone to sing the lyrics," he said. "I made a tape for you to hear."

"I didn't think you were really enthused about singing the song," she said as she slipped the tape into her car stereo. It was already queued, so the music started as soon as the player engaged.

They were silent as the song played, but Laura was surprised at how good he sounded. She took into account that he'd used his home stereo to record the song, but she could hear his voice clearly and the song sounded great. She couldn't wait for the studio to hear him sing. She didn't think she'd have any trouble finding him a recording studio willing to take a chance on him.

"Remember," he said when the song ended. "I used the karaoke mic and taped it at home."

"It's amazing, Sky," she said. "The quality of the recording is the best that it can be for what you had available, but I could hear you very well and I think you nailed the song. I'm excited about this. Do you want to sing it for the show?"

"All I can say is that I'll give it my best shot," he replied after only a second's pause.

"You trust me?" she asked, glancing at him as she drove.

"Of course," he said seriously. She'd done everything she said she would so far. Until she proved that she didn't deserve to be trusted he would trust her completely.

"Well trust me when I say that I think you could have a hit single with that song," she said. "All we have to do is get the right to release it."

"You really think I sound that good?" he asked.

"Oh I do," she said. "I really do."

"You're the agent," he said, smiling at her. He was actually proud to hear that she liked his singing. He had thought that Brian was being nice, but maybe he was serious about liking the song too.

"Well I only handle television and film," she said. "I can get you a record deal, but you need a manager to manage both your acting and singing career."

"I don't have a singing career yet," he reminded her.

"Oh but if I have anything to say about it you will," she vowed.

After she'd dropped Skyler off at his apartment, Laura headed straight back to the studio. She played the tape for Milton, and he demanded that the music department get to hear it. Everyone agreed that Skyler could sing far better than they'd hoped, and Milton told her that if she wanted him to record an album he just hoped she wouldn't take him away from the show.

It was nearly quitting time when she reached her office. There were messages from just about all of her clients, and though she hated to neglect any of them she decided that they would all have to wait until the next day. She had phone calls to make and meetings to set up. If she was going to make Skyler into the star she knew he could be, he would require a great deal of her time and care.

She took her address book out of her top desk drawer and flipped through the pages until she came to a name that she thought would be a really good prospect for Skyler Thomas's singing career. She picked up her phone and dialed the number on the page. She smiled as she thought about what she would say and what could happen if everything went the way she hoped. Skyler would be a star, and she would have one hot client.

"Barry," she said when the call was answered. "It's Laura. Listen, did I hear correctly when I was told that you were searching for new talent? Well how about having dinner with me? I'm about to leave the office."

An hour later she was seated at The Crystal Room across the city from her office. Barry Graham wasn't there yet, but she knew that he'd show up. Barry was one that always kept his word. She just hoped that he would be as excited about Skyler as she was. He had to be. Laura knew that Skyler had the looks, talent and attitude to make it in the music industry. She just had to have a little help getting his voice on the airwaves with more than just the one song.

She told the waitress that she would wait to order food until her companion arrived. She did order a glass of red wine, sipping it slowly as her mind filled with the possibilities that this meeting could make into realities. Skyler had said he trusted her, and she planned to do everything she could for the boy. There was something about him that she couldn't quite nail down, but he commanded attention wherever he went and people everywhere were going to love him.

That shy, embarrassed personality of his was going to make him a huge star. She laughed to herself when she thought about it. The world was about to get to know her eighteen year old heart throb of a client really well. Skyler had the looks and the body for a soap star. He had the looks and body of a movie star for that matter. He'd proven that he could handle pressure that very day. She couldn't believe they wanted him in a bikini. She'd fully expected Skyler to finally say no but he just smiled and got through it.

He handled himself in a completely professional manner, never looked down when he was speaking to someone and made everyone he spoke to feel like they were the most important person in the room. The fact that he always looked a person in the eye when he spoke had been one of the things that had made her hope that he would sign with her to begin with. Now she just hoped she could do right by him.

Barry Graham hugged her before taking his seat across from her. The waitress arrived right on time to take his wine order and then the two of them looked at each other for a moment. She had to admit that Barry was a very attractive man. He was in his forties but didn't look a day over thirty with dark hair that was cut short but stylishly, dark eyes and squared features. His body was muscular from long hours spent in the gym. He was always dressed impeccably. That day he wore gray dress slacks, a black shirt and gray jacket. He looked very appealing. She only wished that he wasn't gay.

"So what's got you so excited today, Laura?" he asked as the waitress sat his wine glass in front of him. "You asked if I was still searching for new talent."

"Oh I have someone that you're going to love," she said, smiling with excitement. She reached into her briefcase and pulled out one of the advance pictures from the photo shoot the day before. In it Skyler was dressed in a black tuxedo, holding a glass of champagne as confetti fell around him.

"He's gorgeous," breathed Barry when he looked at the photo. "Can he sing?"

"Well I'm not all that good at recognizing great musical talent, but I'd say he is magnificent," she said, sliding the tape that Skyler had left in her SUV across the table.

"And what will I hear on this tape?" he asked, sliding the tape into the inside breast pocket of his jacket.

"I recently signed him as a client," she began. "He's going to be working on 'Secrets Of the Morning' starting tomorrow. They wanted him to sing a song on the show, and this is a recording of him exercising his vocal cords at home with a karaoke machine. Barry, I'm telling you he'll knock you on your ass."

"That good?" he asked, smiling at her. "He must have sounded great for you to be this excited. After dinner I'll listen to this in the car."

"You're going to sign him, Barry," she enthused. "This guy will be the next big thing in music. All he needs is a good manager and a record deal."

"Come now," laughed Barry. "He's a good looking guy, but isn't he a bit young for you?"

"Oh shut up," she sighed. "I'm serious. He's going to be huge, Barry. And you're going to introduce the recording industry to their next hot artist."

"You really are excited," he laughed. "I can't wait to listen to this tape. Can I keep the picture?"

"Of course. I brought it to give to you," she said. "His name is Skyler Thomas."

"Sounds like a star name," Barry commented quirking an eyebrow at him.

"That's his real name," she assured him. "I've seen the driver's license that proves it."

"Any skeletons in his closet that are going to jump out and bite our asses?" he asked, looking closer at the photo of the smiling young man. He really was a gorgeous boy. If he made it big the world would love him.

"I've had him completely checked out, Barry," she said. "Not even a speeding ticket in his past. No drug use. At least he was never arrested for it, and there are no big secrets that I can find lurking in the shadows. He was in college when Milton Drake basically begged him to audition for a part on the show. Barry, he found him in a diner."

"Milton asked him to audition?" asked Barry. "That doesn't sound like Milton."

"He said he saw something in him that screamed star," she replied. "I didn't understand until I saw him in person. Apparently he blew them away at the audition. Milton sent all of the other actors home after he read the lines."

"Does the kid know any of this?" asked Barry, thinking that if the kid came with a swelled head he might be more of a pain than he needed.

"Not a shred," she said. "He's so shocked and amazed that he even got the part. Do you know that he'd never auditioned for even a commercial before Milton found him in that diner? Barry, he is actually embarrassed when people pay attention to him. It's amazing the way he handles it though. You have to meet him."

"Well I tell you what," he said. "Let me take a listen to this tape, and if I think the kid is even half as talented as you seem to he's got himself a manager. I'll want to meet him and sit down to talk with him about what I expect from him and what he can expect from me. I'll also need to know the extent of his contract with NBC."

"I'll prepare a report for you as soon as you get back to me," she said, smiling.

* * *

"So how's your day going so far?" asked Brian when he and Skyler were having lunch the next day. They were sitting in a deli a few doors down from the studio. Both were on a break from filming. It was Skyler's first day but Brian had yet to film any scenes with him.

"Its been good," replied Skyler. "We did a few test scenes this morning, and I filmed my first scene for the show just before you found me."

"How'd that go?" asked Brian.

"It wasn't bad," said Skyler. "We did it in three takes. Everyone said that was really good. I actually had fun."

"So you think you can do this after all huh?" said Brian with a smile.

"It wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be," said Skyler. "The hardest part was memorizing the lines for the scene just twenty minutes before shooting it."

"I saw Laura this morning," said Brian. "Did she talk to the music department about the song?"

"I don't know," replied Skyler honestly. "I didn't even know she was here this morning. When I got up a car company called to tell me that a car would be at the apartment to bring me to the studio at six. I never saw Laura."

"Well that's probably what she was doing here," said Brian. "I saw Mitch and Stan huddled together before I found you. They seemed excited."

"Mitch and Stan?" asked Skyler.

"The music department," said Brian in explanation. "They seemed excited about something so I guess Laura talked to them."

When they got back to the studio Skyler met Mitch and Stan. Mitch was a tall man, well over six feet with hair the color of fire and dark eyes. Stan was about Skyler's height with blond hair and green eyes. They took him into a conference room to discuss the song. Brian had been right. Laura had talked to them. He thought she must have played them the tape he'd made, but when they said they wanted to hear him sing he figured out that she hadn't. He wondered why.

"Didn't Laura play the tape for you?" he asked as he followed the pair of them to the elevator. They were taking him to the sound studio on the top floor of the building. "Today" was filled there.

"She didn't have a tape with her," said Stan. "But it wouldn't have mattered. We would still have had you up here today anyway. Milton cleared it this morning before we saw Laura."

They took him into a room that looked like the recording studios that he'd seen in movies and on television. Before he knew it he was in the sound booth with headphones on his head and a microphone in front of him. He sang the song into the microphone as clearly as he could, putting all of the emotion into the song that he could muster. He hoped that the emotion he put into the song was right. To him it sounded like a sad song so he tried to make his voice sound sad. When the song ended Mitch and Stan were just staring at him, and he thought he'd done something wrong.

"Um, cut," said Stan while Mitch still had his mouth open. "Skyler, you can come on in here with us."

Skyler walked through the hall to the production booth, and when he walked in they were both staring at him again. It was making him very uncomfortable. If he'd done something wrong he wished they would just tell him. He was nervous enough without all of the staring. He wished that they would say something.

"Did I do all right?" he asked.

"Have you had voice lessons?" asked Mitch finally.

"No," replied Skyler slowly. "I never really thought about singing before Laura mentioned that I might have to sing for the show."

"You've had no formal training of any kind?" asked Stan.

"No," repeated Skyler. "I only sang in musicals in high school and sometimes church. Whenever I went."

"Did you hear what I heard?" Mitch asked Stan. They were looking at each other with stunned expressions.

"Skyler," said Stan, turning back to face him. "The song was perfect. I wonder if you'd work with us some time on your pitch."

"I'm afraid that isn't going to be possible, guys," said Laura's voice from behind Skyler. He was shocked that she'd come in without him noticing. Mitch and Stan seemed just as shocked as he was. "I'll need a copy of the tape you just made. Don't worry its already been cleared. Call downstairs if you need confirmation."

"We'll give you a copy," said Stan. "But why can't we work with him? He's got an amazing voice."

"Yes he does," said Laura. "But he'll be working with someone else very soon I think, and I don't want to confuse him."

"I will?" asked Skyler, who had remained silent until that point. He was still thinking about what Stan had said.

"I just got a call from Barry Graham," she told him, and he heard Mitch and Stan groan behind him.

"Barry Graham?" he asked.

"He's a manager, Skyler," she explained. "I had dinner with him last night and loaned him the tape you made of this song at home. He was very impressed and wants to meet you as soon as you're done here today."

"What kind of manager is he?" asked Skyler.

"Well I'm only an agent," she said. "I can oversea your auditions and make deals for you in certain areas. Barry can get you musical contacts and make other kinds of deals that I don't really know much about. We'll work together if you decide that you want to try your hand at a musical career."

"You really think I sound that good?" he asked.

"Yes," said all three of them at the same time.

He filmed four more scenes that day, and by the time he left with Laura he was more nervous than he had been that morning when he filmed his first scene. Laura had watched each scene being shot, and she expressed to him that she thought he as very talented. He thanked her, but he didn't know if he was talented enough to become a singer. He'd been thinking about that ever since the encounter in the recording studio. He trusted Laura, but he didn't know if he could actually do what she was suggesting. Singing one song was fine, but could he really be a singer?

She drove him out of the city while he wondered exactly where they were going. He thought they would meet Mr. Graham in a restaurant or something, but when she pulled through a gate and up to a huge white three story house he was shocked. The house was beautiful. The grounds were landscaped with trees, flowers and shrubbery and there were very expensive cars in front of the house.

"This is Barry's house," she said when they came to a stop. "I need to ask you something, Sky."

"OK," he said, turning in his seat to face her.

"This is kind of sensitive so I don't know where you stand on the issue," she said. "I need to know what you think of homosexuals."

He was stunned by the question. She hadn't asked him if he was a homosexual, but that didn't really matter. She'd asked what he thought about them. No one had ever asked him anything like that in his life. If he told her that he didn't have a problem with them, would she assume that he was gay? If he told her that he did have a problem with them she might not like to hear that. He decided to just tell her that he had no problem with them in his own way.

"A person's sexual preference is none of my business," he said. "If I met a homosexual man I'd treat him with the same respect that I treat everyone with. Why?"

"To be honest that's how I thought you might feel," she said. "I asked because Barry and Joel are lovers, Sky. I want Barry to sign you on as his client, but I wanted to make sure that you weren't going to be uncomfortable around him before I took you in there."

That made him think. He'd never knowingly been around homosexuals before. He'd certainly never known any that were open about it. He decided that he'd have to be careful not to give himself away. Even though they were both gay and comfortable with others knowing about it he wasn't comfortable with others knowing about him yet.

"It isn't a problem for me," he said. "Did you think it would be?"

"No," she admitted. "I just had to be absolutely certain before I took you in there."

They got out of the SUV and walked up to the front porch. It was massive and extended all the way from one end of the front of the house to the other. Huge white pillars extended from the porch floor to the top floor of the house, and Skyler wondered just how much money he would have to make to own a house that large. He really didn't think he'd ever need a house that large, but he wasn't going to say he would never want one.

"Laura," said a twenty-something shirtless guy with coal black hair, dark eyes and a muscular physic. He was covered in sweat. "Barry's in the studio. Come on in. Excuse me while I run upstairs and shower."

"No problem, Joel," said Laura, smiling. "This is Skyler Thomas."

"Nice to meet you, Skyler," said Joel, extending his hand after he wiped it on the towel sticking out of the waistband of his shorts. "Your picture doesn't do you justice."

"Thank you," replied Skyler, blushing. "Nice to meet you."

"I'll be down in a bit," Joel said to Laura. "Go on back. He's expecting you."

Skyler tried not to let his gaze rest on Joel's sweaty muscles as he stood there, but he did steal a glance at the back of him as he headed toward the staircase. He watched him out of the corner of his eye as he followed Laura through the hall almost to the back of the house. He could hear a young voice singing as they closer to the open door of the studio.

"That must be Cory," said Laura as they walked. "He's the youngest of Barry's clients. He has a really great voice, but he's so shy that we're afraid he won't be able to sing in front of anyone."

"I know the feeling," said Skyler softly.

"Laura," said Barry, coming out of the studio with a young boy following him. "Did you hear Cory's latest?"

"We heard a bit of it, coming down the hall," she said, smiling. "Barry Graham, this is Skyler Thomas."

"Very nice to meet you, Skyler," said Barry, shaking Skyler's hand. "Laura has told me some very good things about you. I want you to know that I've heard you sing and I think you have an amazing voice."

"Thank you," said Skyler, wondering how Barry could have heard him sing.

"I talked to Mitch," Barry said to Laura. "Those guys are very upset that you pulled him away from them this afternoon."

"I'm sure they are," laughed Laura. "But if Skyler is going to have a real shot I can't leave him with Mitch and Stan. They were asking him to work with them when I caught them."

"Oh no," laughed Barry. "I hope they didn't start you on any exercises, Skyler."

"They didn't have a chance," said Laura before Skyler could say anything. "I got there just as they asked him about training. They were blown away by his voice though."

"Well from what I've heard of it I'm kinda blown away, too," he said, smiling at Skyler. "Do you think you'd like to sing a bit tonight?"

"I can give it a shot," replied Skyler, glancing at Laura. He hadn't expected to sing. He had thought they were going to talk.

"Listen," said Barry. "Do either of you mind if Cory sticks around for this?"

"I don't mind," said Laura, looking at Skyler.

Skyler glanced at the shy boy standing almost behind Barry. He thought that if Cory was that shy and could sing for Barry, then he had no problems singing. He even thought it would be nice for the boy to stick around and listen. The boy couldn't have been older than fourteen or fifteen. He had blond hair that was combed straight down all the way around his head, dark eyes and very dark eyebrows which contrasted his pale skin.

"Sure," he said, smiling at Cory.

"I'm sorry," said Barry, shaking his head. "This is Cory Stephens. Cory, this is Skyler Thomas. We were talking about him earlier."

"Nice to meet you, Cory," said Skyler with a smile. After a moment Cory smiled back.

"Nice to meet you too," he said. "I liked your song."

"Thank you," replied Skyler. "From what I heard of yours I'd say yours is pretty good too."

He gained a smile from Barry as well as Cory for that statement, but he noticed that Barry was watching him very closely. He wondered just what Laura had said to him. He also hoped that Barry wasn't seeing anything in him that he didn't want to be seen. He wasn't ready to come out of the closet, and he thought that if he did it might end his career before it started.

"I've got the demo from the studio today," said Laura, holding up the tape she'd carried in from the car. "Shall we listen?"

"Sure," said Barry, stepping aside. "Come on in and have a seat you two."

They sat in the chairs in front of the equipment, and Skyler looked at the booth beyond the glass. It was larger than the one he'd been in that day, and he wondered what it would feel like to sing in there. He watched as Laura handed Barry the demo tape and Barry loaded the tape into the machine. He pushed a few buttons and the music filled the room.

They were all silent as Skyler's voice filled the room. Skyler was really embarrassed, but he tried not to let Cory, who was watching him carefully, see it. He thought that if the young boy saw that he wasn't embarrassed about others hearing him sing it might help with his own nervousness over the same thing. He thought that what he had heard of Cory singing was really good. His voice was still young, but Skyler thought that when it finally did change it would sound even better.

"Did they alter this in any way?" asked Barry when the song finished.

"They didn't have a chance," said Laura. "I watched them like a hawk. I wanted a clean recording so you could hear Skyler instead of studio tweaks."

"Well it sounds amazing," said Barry, looking from Laura to Skyler. "The pitch is almost perfect. I want to try something if you don't mind a little testing, Skyler."

"I don't mind," he said, but inside he was more nervous than ever. He had no idea what Barry meant by testing.

"Come into the sound booth with me for a minute," he said. "Laura, I want you to record what we do. I want it all on tape. I'll even start the video cameras to get a visual record."

Laura must have known her way around Barry's studio because she switched seats and started flipping dials as Barry led Skyler through a door at the other end of the room from the one leading to the hall that they'd come down. He asked him to have a seat on the stool in front of the microphone after he'd lifted it slightly. Then he went to the piano and sat down. He ran his fingers over the keys just once and looked at the recoding booth.

"Sounds perfect," said Laura.

"OK, Skyler, what I'm going to do is hit one note at a time," said Barry. "What I want you to do is try to imitate its sound into the microphone."

"I'll do my best," said Skyler, rubbing his hands on his jeans. He had no idea what this was going to do for him, but he had decided to see it through to where ever it led.

Barry hit five notes and Skyler did his best to match the tone with his own voice. The only note that he recognized was C, and he thought for sure that he'd nailed that one. After Barry didn't hit another note for more than fifteen seconds Skyler turned to look at him. He was wearing the same kind of stunned expression as Skyler had seen on Mitch's and Stan's faces earlier that day after singing the song. When he turned around to look at Laura again he found that Joel had come into the studio while he wasn't paying attention. What shocked him was that Laura and Joel also had that stunned expression on their faces.

"How'd I do?" he asked, turning back to Barry. Their expressions and silence were making him nervous. He'd done his best, so he didn't know what else he could've done.

"Skyler, I can't be absolutely sure, but I think that you sing in perfect pitch," said Barry. "With a voice like that I'm sure that you can sing just about anything you want."

"Really?" asked Skyler. He didn't really understand why that was so stunning to any of them. All he'd done was try to imitate notes played on a piano.

"You don't understand do you?" asked Barry. He tried to explain when Skyler shook his head. "Your voice isn't just powerful, Skyler. I think that you when you sing you can match the key and pitch of the music you're hearing. That's better than anyone I've ever worked with. Hell its better than most professional singers that I've ever heard."

Skyler didn't know what to think about that. He thought that he sounded pretty good on the tape from the studio, but he didn't know much about keys, pitch and all of that stuff. When he'd sang in high school no one had said much about it. Everyone cheered for him, but he had always thought they were being polite. After all he was a fifteen year old boy when he'd stared in his first high school musical. Weren't all adults polite when teenagers sang in those things?

After that Barry played a few songs on the piano that Skyler knew, and Skyler sang into the microphone. When Barry said that was enough he followed him back into the recording booth to listen with the others. He didn't see what they were talking about when he listened to the playback of his singing, but they all agreed that he sounded very good.

"Congratulations, Skyler," said Barry after they'd all talked for a few minutes. "You've got yourself a manager."

"Alone" is a song by Eric Draven.

The portrayal of Brian Krause in this story doesn't match his real life timeline. I did research him to find the facts that were available, but they didn't fit with my ideas for the story. At the time this story begins, Brian was married to Beth. You will find no mention of a marriage or children for Brian in this story.

The Next Chapter Will Be Posted Soon.

Skyler Thomas File