© 2005-2010 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 7

The house was just the way he remembered it. The plaster walls were cracked, and he could still see the holes in the wall behind the couch where Chuck's fists had struck the plaster. The threadbare oval rug was still on the living room floor. The hard wood under the rug was scarred and stained in places, and the couch itself was ripped on each arm with gray tape covering the tears. The television, easily the most expensive thing in the house was supported by an old table that used to site beside Skyler's bed in the back bedroom at the end of the long hall.

Skyler sat nervously in the recliner and let his gaze travel over the living room of the house that he hated to call home. Pictures lined the walls, but he noticed that every picture of him that had ever graced the walls was now missing. The fact saddened him, but it didn't surprise him. It seemed that his mother and step-father had tried to erase him from existence the day he'd left for college. In a way Skyler had done the same thing to them as well. He only spoke about them to very close friends, of which he now had more than he'd ever had in his life. Still not all of them knew about his childhood.

Cassie and Chad were the reason he'd come to the house. He would have had them come to the hotel, but he wasn't sure that they would have been allowed to do that. He had to face his mother and step-father some time, and that morning he'd experienced a case of shaking as he dressed himself and prepared for the visit. Coming home was harder for him than he'd thought it would be, and his mother's strange look as she stared at him didn't help his nerves at all. Was that supposed to be a happy look?

She'd curled her blond hair and put on make up for his visit, but he couldn't believe that she'd gone to the trouble just because her oldest son was coming home. That smile on her face sent chills down Skyler's spine as he remembered how often his mother's beautiful face had twisted in ugly rage when she'd looked at him in the past. Her blue eyes sparkled with what Skyler would have begged God was love, but he knew his mother far too well to indulge in a childish fantasy.

"We've been wondering when you would come back," she said in a voice that was almost pleasant. Gone was the irritation and boredom that he remembered from his few telephone conversations with his mother. Not that those could have been called conversations. They'd rarely ever said more than six words to each other over the phone. "Chuck didn't think you would come back at all, but I knew you wouldn't forget about your momma."

"Where is Chuck?" he asked, cursing himself mentally when his voice quivered.

"He's at work," replied his mother. "Times are really tight here, Sky, as you can plainly see from the shape of the house."

The house looked no different than it had when he'd lived in it other than the missing pictures from the walls. He tried not to think about those too much. Doing so would depress him again, and he was already so nervous that he was surprised he hadn't vibrated out of the recliner. If only his mother could induce this type of feeling in him, he shuddered to think of what would happen when his eyes beheld his step-father.

"The twins haven't said anything about you and Chuck having money problems," he said carefully. He didn't want to say anything to cause his brother and sister trouble. It was bad enough that with all of his success and money he couldn't rescue them from living in that house.

"The twins wouldn't bother you with anything," she replied dismissively. "Besides they don't see what they don't want to see. They're happy to live as they have, Skyler. They don't know what it's like to live the way that you do."

He didn't know why he was surprised and hurt to hear her say that. He'd known that her happy expression and tender voice had been a sham. This was the proof. The tightness around her eyes and mouth when she'd talked about the way he lived were the first indications that it was all a facade. The absolute proof had lain it what she'd said. She hoped to get money from him. He wondered just what his mother and Chuck would think if they knew that he'd opened accounts for both of the twins and deposited money in them all of the time. He had no intention of revealing the information to either of them though. Even the twins were unaware of what he was doing.

"I didn't mean to imply that times weren't tight simply because the twins hadn't said anything," he replied quietly. He didn't know what he would say to her if she asked him for money. He'd left his checkbook, credit cards and other valuables in the hotel room safe. He'd known that this might happen, and he didn't want to have the means to hand her any money. He only had fifty dollars in his wallet, and that was to be used to take the twins to dinner.

"I've seen you on those talk shows," said his mother still in that sickeningly sweet tone of voice. "The twins both have a copy of your CD, but they don't play it loud when Chuck is home. He's always tired after working so hard to support us."

"Chuck always works hard," he said, trying to think of a way to get the twins out of the house before Chuck got home or she asked for money.

"We're ready," said Cassie as she and Chad came into the living room.

Skyler smiled when he saw them. He realized that it was the first time he'd smiled since he'd woke up that morning. They were a sight for sore eyes. Cassie's flaxen hair was to her waist, and her cornflower blue eyes were so warm and happy compared to his mother's. She beamed at him as he smiled at her, and his heart flooded with love for her.

Chad had been working out, observed Skyler. His scrawny little brother now had a muscular body that his black t-shirt strained to hold in. His blond hair was cut very much like Skyler's, and his blue eyes only held slight tension. Skyler's smile didn't falter when he saw that tightness around his brother's eyes, but his heart nearly broke from fear of what it was that had put that tension on his little brother's face.

"We should get going," Skyler said, clearing his throat as he stood on shaky knees.

"You mind your brother now," said his mother, following them to the door. "And, Skyler, don't have them out too late. They still have school in the morning. Chuck and I would like for you to come back tomorrow while they're at school. Chuck is off work, and we'd like to do a little catching up."

"I'll see what I can do," he said, trying to smile for his mother but the smile never fully formed as he saw that hungry look in his mother's eyes.

Skyler led his brother and sister to his rental car, and they were just pulling away from the curb when Chuck's old red truck pulled into the driveway next to the house. Skyler didn't even look at his step-father as he drove away, sighing in relief when they reached the end of the block. He hated that after over a year of being away from his parents they could make him feel so small and scared inside.

"Do we have to go to a restaurant?" asked Cassie from the back seat of the car. "Can't we just buy some food and go to the hotel?"

"Do you guys want to meet Madonna?" he asked, trying hard to feed as much excitement into his voice as he could. He didn't want the twins hear the quiver in his voice.

"Madonna?" asked Chad, turning to face him. "She's in Detroit?"

"Yeah," laughed Skyler. "This is where she grew up too."

"Cool," said Cassie. "Can we see the house she grew up in?"

"Well I thought I'd call her when we got to the hotel and invite her over for a little while," said Skyler. "I'm not sure it would be appropriate if we barged in on her family."

"That sounds good," said Chad. "What are we going to eat?"

"Whatever you want," laughed Skyler. "We could stop somewhere, or we can just order room service."

"Room service!" enthused Cassie. "That would be so cool! It would be like we were on location with you or something."

"Room service is cool," chuckled Chad.

The twins talked about Madonna all the way to the hotel. Skyler's mood got better as their excited chatter went on. He was so happy to see them again, and they seemed unharmed aside from the look in Chad's eyes when he'd first come into the living room at the house. Skyler intended to question him about that when he got the chance. He made up his mind that if Chuck was hurting the twins in any way, he would find a way to get them away from his mother. He silently cursed his father for leaving them. If he hadn't left none of this would have ever happened.

Madonna met them in the lobby of the hotel. She was just coming back from her father's house, and the twins were speechless when they saw her. She smiled at them and asked Skyler how the meeting with his mother had gone. Skyler glanced at the twins and once again he saw that tension on Chad's face.

"It was surreal," said Skyler. "She was nice to me."

"That's good, right?" she asked as she walked with them to the elevator.

"I don't know," he replied. "She said that she and Chuck want me to come over tomorrow while the twins are in school. She also kept talking about how tight things were around the house and Chuck working so hard to support them."

"Don't give them any money, Sky," said Chad from behind him, startling him. "That's what they want to talk to you about. They've been saying all sorts of things about you since you told them you were coming to visit. Chuck said that he'll get money out of you one way or another. Mom was supposed to be sweet and nice to see if you'd offer any."

"Chuck told us if we said anything to you he'd make us sorry," said Cassie timidly, and for the first time Skyler saw fear in her eyes. A fear he could remember from his own yesterdays, and it made him angry.

"Not out here, Sky," said Madonna, sensing his anger. "Let's get up to your room, and I'll make some calls."

They walked the rest of the way to the elevator in silence. Skyler was furious and terrified at the same time. He had to get them out of that house, but he didn't know how to do it. Madonna had said she make phone calls, but who could she call? Who would listen to an eighteen year old boy when there were two adults that would call him a liar.

He thought about the press as they stepped into the elevator and sighed. They would carry the story forever. It would be all anyone would want to talk about. He might have to postpone the tour. He wondered what that would mean for the dates already booked. Tickets weren't on sale yet that he knew of, but could he get them to reschedule those dates?

"Calm down, Skyler," said Madonna as the elevator doors opened on their floor. Security met them as they stepped off the elevator, but Madonna shook her head and they backed off.

As soon as they were in Skyler's room, Madonna was on the telephone. First she called the police and asked that an officer come to the hotel. She then alerted security that a police officer was on his way to Skyler's suite. She called her attorney and then Laura. That call lasted for a while before she handed the phone to Skyler.

"Are you all right?" asked Laura.

"I'm fine," he breathed. "I'm just not letting them go home, Laura. I know that this is going to cause a bunch of problems, but I can't let them go home."

"Skyler, don't think about problems," instructed Laura. "You just worry about your family. I'll call Barry and let him know what's going on. I'm sure he'll have to alert Maverick that some of the tour dates have to be either cancelled or postponed. They'll have to understand."

"Thanks, Laura," he sighed with relief.

"I'm going to catch a flight to Detroit, Sky," she said. "I'll be there soon."

"She's coming to Detroit," Skyler informed Madonna when he hung up the phone. "She's also calling Barry to let him know what's happening."

"Everything is going to be all right, Sky," said Madonna. "Barbara is on her way over here right now. She'll tell you what your options are. Cassie and Chad, you guys have to answer her questions. Be honest OK?"

"We will," said Chad.

He looked scared, and so did Cassie. Skyler hated that, but this had to be done. He couldn't allow them to live with their mother and Chuck any longer. His threat to make them sorry if they told Skyler anything about what was said about him was enough to make Skyler want to go over there and choke Chuck. He'd never been so angry in his life.

The attorney that Madonna called, Barbara Wilkes, arrived before the police officer. She was in her late forties with very curly dark hair that had just a touch of gray streaking through her curls and dark eyes. She was no more than five feet and four inches tall, but she had a presence that made her seem a giant. Skyler was intimidated by here, and so were the twins.

She asked them questions about everything Chuck had said to the twins prior to Skyler's visit, and then she asked them if he'd ever hit them. Skyler's anger boiled hotter as Chad talked about the same leather belt that had been used on Skyler countless times. He told her about Chuck nearly breaking his arm when he was twelve, and Skyler could remember that day very well.

Cassie said that Chuck did nothing more than scream at her. He'd never hit her, but she lived in fear of the day he'd start. She was crying as she answered Barbara's questions, and Skyler wanted to hold her so badly that he almost couldn't resist. If it hadn't been for Madonna's hand on his arm he would have gone to her.

When Barbara asked Skyler the same questions, he told her everything. Every time that Chuck had screamed at him, hit him, kicked him, made him stay in his room all day long with no food and all about how his mother had always just watched what went on, saying nothing to Chuck about it. He told her how his mother laughed at him when Chuck would hit him and how cold she was when she talked to him until that day.

When the police officer arrived, Barbara did most of the talking. She told him everything that they had told her, and then he just needed affirmation from Skyler and the twins. He asked if Skyler wanted to press charges on behalf of the twins, and Skyler said that he did. Then he used the phone to call his headquarters.

Skyler and the twins rode to the police station with Madonna. She kept telling him that everything was going to be all right and that she would help him in any way that she could. She promised that the twins would never have to go back to live with his parents, and Skyler sighed. He wanted it all to be over. He knew that it was only beginning though.

At the police station each of them gave statements with Barbara sitting close by. They told the same things they'd told her, and when they finished they were told that officers had been dispatched to pick up their parents on charges of neglect and abuse. They were allowed to go back to the hotel before their parents arrived, and Skyler was thankful for that.

Once they were back in Skyler's suite at the hotel he ordered room service, but no one was especially hungry. They sat and talked about what was going to happen. Skyler promised the twins that he would take care of them. Madonna told them that Skyler could get guardianship of them, and they could move to New York with him. Both of the twins seemed to like that idea.

Madonna offered to let Cassie stay in her room that night because there was only one bed in Skyler's suite. Chad was already falling asleep on the couch in the sitting room, so Cassie went with Madonna to her room to sleep on her couch. Skyler sat in silence as he thought about what was going to happen next. He was sure that they'd have to face their parents in court. That was going to be hard, but what would likely happen next was that he would petition the court for guardianship of his siblings. He hoped that the judge granted his petition. Barbara had said that she would represent all three of them in both the case against their parents and the guardianship case in family court. He hoped that they put his parents away.

He was cleaning up what was left of the food from room service when he heard voices in the hall. He stiffened for a second until he heard Laura's voice. She was arguing with security and trying to tell them that she was expected. Skyler stuck his head out the door and told security to let her pass. He confirmed that she was in fact, his agent, and they stepped out from in front of the elevator to let Laura onto the floor.

"Madonna's security is fierce," she said once they were behind his closed door. She took on look at Chad asleep on the couch in the sitting room and sighed. "How are you holding up?"

"I'm OK," he replied, sitting on the bed. "I don't know what the twins are thinking, but I'm OK."

"So what's happened?" she asked, sitting beside him.

"Well Madonna called her Detroit attorney, and we talked to her for a while, then we went to the police station to give statements," he said quietly. "They arrested my mother and step-father, and we have to go to court. That will probably be tomorrow. I don't know about when we'll be in family court, but I'm taking the twins to live with me."

"Barry and I expected that was what you would do," she said. "You're apartment isn't going to be big enough."

"So I'll look for another," he snapped, and then sighed. "I'm sorry."

"It's all right," she said, rubbing his shoulder. "You're under a lot of stress, and I understand. I was going to say that Barry said he would start looking for a larger apartment in the morning."

"That's a relief," said Skyler. "One last thing to worry about. Now I just have to get through whatever's coming here."

They talked for a while longer about what Skyler was going to do with his siblings while he toured. He told her that if they couldn't go with him, he wasn't going. That caused a short conversation about contracts and responsibilities, and Skyler reminded her that family came first. He was using a tutor for his college classes, so he said that the twins could use one for high school classes as well. In the end she agreed that was an option, but she suggested that he discuss it with the twins before he made any final decisions.

After a few more suggestions about how to handle all of what was coming, she excused herself to go to her own room to get some sleep. She'd registered as soon as she arrived, and she had a room on another floor. Skyler sighed against the door when he closed it after she left. He turned around and stared at his brother's sleeping form before walking over to gather up all of the room service items and put them back on the cart. He wheeled it out into the hall and then went into the bathroom to change into sweats. Then he crawled into bed and tried to sleep.

The next morning Laura was back in his room at six. She waited patiently while they took turns showering. Chad had nothing to wear but the clothes that he'd just taken off, and Skyler thought about buying the twins a few outfits to wear while they were in Detroit. Laura suggested that they go to the house once they knew for sure that no one would be there and get some things for the twins.

Madonna and Cassie came to the room shortly after Skyler had showered and dressed. Madonna told Skyler that the press was outside the hotel, and his heart sank. He'd had no idea that they would catch on to the story so quickly. There was no avoiding them now. He was going to have to just ignore them if he could.

Barbara showed up at seven-thirty. She told them that their parents would be arraigned at nine, but she had called in a favor and they had to be in family court at eight-thirty. They decided to skip breakfast and head straight to the courthouse. No one was really hungry after sleeping under their dreams anyway.

The press shouted questions at them as they headed for the van that Barbara had driven over. Barbara had told them all to ignore the press and they tried, but Skyler could tell that the twins were nervous as the throng of reporters shouted at them. They rushed to the van and quickly got inside as the reporters tried to follow them. This was just another reason for Skyler to hate his mother and step-father.

There were more reporters at the courthouse, and Skyler wished that he could just fade into the seat as they parked. The press hadn't seen them enter the parking lot, but they would be upon them as they tried to enter the courthouse. Madonna cursed under her breath and then smiled at Cassie when she caught her looking. That broke the tension among them, and they all laughed.

They huddled together as they walked from the parking lot to the main entrance of the courthouse. Cameras flashed and reporters shouted more questions, but Barbara just kept telling them that none of them had any comments for them at this time. Laura did her best to do the same, but the press ignored the women. They shouted questions at him and Madonna over Barbara and Laura's voices as they made their way inside.

It dawned on Skyler as they were ushered into the courtroom promptly at eight-thirty that this was the very first time he'd ever been inside a real courtroom. His only experience with the courts had been the scenes he'd shot for "Secrets Of the Morning" when his character had gone to court to sue for custody of his three month old son. He marveled out just how different the reality was from the set.

Things went quickly in the courtroom, and Skyler was lost through most of what Barbara told Judge Kent about what had happened. She used a lot of legal words and spoke passionately and quickly. There was no one to protest the petition, so when she was done the judge asked Cassie and Chad a few questions and then, surprising Skyler, granted his petition. He did instruct Skyler that the guardianship order was only temporary, and that Skyler would have to be in court again in six months to either petition for custody or adoption.

They were back downstairs in time to talk with the district attorney about what had happened at their parents' arraignments. Skyler was told that both his mother and step-father were being held without bail, and when he asked if it would be all right if he took the twins to the house to pack some of their things an officer was found to accompany them.

After fighting through the press again as they left the courthouse, they drove back to the house with a police escort. Thankfully, Skyler realized that the press had not followed them. He was already tired of the press, and this was actually the first time since he'd moved from LA that the press had ever swarmed him. He suspected that it was only the beginning though. That thought made him angry.

The twins were both silent as they packed clothing into suitcases bought along the way to the house. Neither of them showed any emotion at all, and Skyler worried about how this was affecting them. He'd expected tears at the least, but the silence was scaring him a bit. Madonna assured him that they were most likely in shock, and they would talk to him when they were ready.

Once they were done at the house they made their way back to the hotel quickly. This time the hotel had arranged for them to sneak in through the service entrance, avoiding the press entirely. Once they were back in Skyler's room, the twins finally started talking. They asked what was going to happen next, and Chad asked about school.

"I think it might be a good idea if we went back to New York," Skyler said to Laura and Madonna. "I only came to Detroit to see my brother and sister, but now . . ."

"I'll call the airport," said Laura as Madonna nodded at him.

"Get them settled in New York, and then you call me," she said firmly. "If you need anything, Sky, don't hesitate to ask."

Two hours later, they were on a non stop flight from Detroit to New York. The twins were excited about flying. It was the first time that either of them had ever been on a plane, and Skyler smiled at their excitement as he remembered his own excitement the day he'd flown to LA. He settled back in his seat and sighed as the plane took off. He couldn't wait to be in New York again. He couldn't think of anywhere further from Detroit and the fear that he felt there.

He called Zack from the airport in New York to warn him that they were bringing the twins. Zack had already heard the wrong story from the television, so he knew that something was happening. He said that the press had already said that Skyler had left Detroit, but they hadn't said where he was going yet. Thankfully they hadn't expected him to fly to New York, and no one at the airport in Detroit had sold them out so far.

The twins were excited as they watched the snow covered New York cityscape pass them by as Laura drove them from the airport to Skyler's apartment. They talked back and forth about this and that as the SUV passed through the streets. Chad was amazed that there were so many people out when it was so cold. Skyler laughed at that. In New York nothing stopped the people from going about their business. He suggested to Laura that a sight seeing trip might be good for them, and she quickly agreed. They decided that after they were settled she'd come and take them all around the city.

"Be expecting a call from Barry," she said. "He's going to want to know what's going on. I'll call him and tell him what happened in Detroit, but he's going to want to know if you are still going to be able to tour."

"The judge said I had six months," he said. "Unless we have to stop to appear in court when my parents are tried, then I don't see why I can't go ahead with the tour."

"What about the tutor for the twins?" she asked. "You have to find one, Sky."

"That won't be that hard," he said. "I have until next month to find one that will travel with us. I'll call around, Laura. It'll be fine."

Laura stayed for dinner, and then Skyler called Madonna to let her know that they'd all settled into the apartment for the night. Chad and Cassie were still excited about all of the cool electronics in the apartment, so when Madonna asked if they'd reacted to what had happened yet he told her no. They were both sure that it wouldn't be long though.

Zack got along with the twins famously. He told them that he'd take them to the deli where all of the stars of the show hung out, and Cassie was sold. She declared Zack her new best friend. Skyler was a little worried about what Chad and Cassie would say when they learned that Zack was gay, but it turned out that he had nothing to worry about. Zack didn't bother to hide the fact, and Chad and Cassie just talked to him about Phil, who Zack had been dating for the last three months. There was no tension over his sexuality, and Skyler wondered how they'd feel when they found out about him.

"Brian Littrell has called four times, Sky," said Zack as he helped Skyler load the dinner dishes into the dishwasher. "He told me to have you call him in Orlando."

"I'll call him before I go to bed," said Skyler. "Right now I want to talk to you."

"What about?" he asked.

"Well it seems like you're getting along with the twins fairly well, but how do you feel about them living here?" asked Skyler.

"The apartment got smaller," he said with a shrug. "Other than that I'm fine with them living here, but Skyler, I need to talk to you too."

"What's up?" he asked as they sat down.

"Phil and I have been talking about moving in together," Zack said slowly. "I don't want you to think that it has anything to do with the twins though."

"I had no idea that things were that serious with you and Phil," admitted Skyler. Phil had been the one that Skyler had overheard Zack talking to in the deli when he'd first decided to approach him about living in the apartment with him.

"We're in love, Sky," said Zack, looking down at the table.

"Don't look so sad, Zack," said Skyler, reaching over and taking his hands. "If you love each other then I'm happy for you. If you two want to live together I'm not going to get mad about it."

"Thanks, Sky," he said, smiling at him.

They left the kitchen after that, and Skyler got blankets and a pillow for Cassie, who would be sleeping on the couch that night. Chad had agreed to sleep in Skyler's room with him. The bed was big enough, so there wasn't a problem. Then he settled into his recliner and called Brian in Orlando. It'd been a while since he'd talked to Brian Littrell. He didn't have to wonder why he'd called though.

"Hey, Sky," said Brian when he answered the phone.

"How'd you know it was me?" chuckled Skyler.

"Because you're the only one that I gave this number besides Zack," laughed Brian. "How are you doing? I saw the news."

"Well the news is wrong as usual," said Skyler with a sigh. He explained what had happened in Detroit and told Brian that the twins were now living with him.

"How are they holding up?" asked Brian when Skyler finished the story.

"So far great," said Skyler. "I don't think they've had a chance to digest everything though. They've been too busy dodging the press and being dazzled by New York."

"Did you take them sight seeing?" laughed Brian.

"No they only saw what was between the apartment and the airport," replied Skyler. "Laura is planning a sight seeing trip for them soon though."

"Well listen, part of the reason I called was to ask you when your show will reach Orlando," said Brian. "We're kind of on a break right now with working on a new album and all."

"Orlando is about half way through the tour if I remember right," said Skyler. "I still have to figure out if I'm going to postpone or cancel any dates. Why don't I get back to you on that?"

"That sounds good," said Brian. "If nothing else I can fly out to see the show somewhere along the tour."

"That'd be nice," said Skyler. "I'd love to see you again."

"I've got a friend who is dying to meet you," laughed Brian. "Would it be alright if I bring him along?"

"Sure," laughed Skyler. "The more the merrier."

"All right, Sky," said Brian. "I'll talk to you soon. Have a good night, and good luck with everything that's coming your way."

"Thanks," replied Skyler. "You have a good night too."

When he got off of the phone he went around the apartment, making sure that everything was turned off, locked up and put away. This had become a nightly ritual for him since he'd moved into the apartment in the spring. Once he was satisfied, he turned off the living room lights, kissed Cassie goodnight and crawled into bed beside Chad.

As he lay there he thought back to the day that had started him on the path to where he was now and all that had happened in between. He smiled as he remembered how adamantly he'd tried to convince himself that he didn't want to even get the part on "Secrets Of the Morning". That had been his own way of convincing himself of something so that he wouldn't get hurt if the worst happened. He thought of his very first day in the apartment and how excited he'd been. He remembered the lonely feeling as well.

He wasn't going to be lonely now though. Sure Zack was leaving to live with Phil, but now he had Cassie and Chad. In a round about way the twins had shared in his experiences as they happened. He'd never failed to report anything that had gone on to them as fast as he could get in touch with them. He remembered how Cassie had giggled when she'd heard that he would be singing a song on the show, and he remembered how excited she'd been when she'd seen the video for that song on MTV for the first time.

He thought of the fit he'd thrown when he'd first heard "Dizzy", and he actually laughed at himself now. The single had been a huge hit for him, boosting his CD sales to over ten million. He was eighteen years old, had a CD that had gone triple platinum in less than six months, he had more money than he'd ever dared dream of before and he was friends with the most successful female in the world. When he stopped to think about how far he'd come since that day when at seventeen, he'd boarded an airplane for his very first flight.

He'd been so scared that the plane would crash and kill him. He chuckled at the memory of how he gripped his seatbelt through the entire flight. That had been one of the first stories that he'd told Mark during one of their "truth" games. He'd been embarrassed then, but now he just laughed at himself. He couldn't believe that he'd gone from that scared seventeen year old on his first flight to a man who flew around the country all of the time without even thinking about it in less than a year.

Now he was getting ready for his first concert tour. He still got butterflies in his stomach when he thought of standing on a stage in front of an audience and signing, but it wasn't as bad as it had been before he'd sang for the Rosie O'Donnell Show. He was actually starting to get excited about the idea of touring across America. He wondered what it was going to be like to live on a bus and in hotels for that long. Would he be able to stand it?

Then there was the talk of his next CD. He hadn't let on to anyone, but he was very excited about getting back into the studio after the tour. He'd written two songs that he hoped would make the album. He had only told anyone about one song, but he'd written another not very long ago and he thought it was a good song. He thought about the song as he drifted off to sleep that night.

The next morning Laura came right after they'd all finished eating breakfast to take the twins sight seeing while Skyler met with Barry and Wendy at Barry's. Skyler had wanted to be with is brother and sister when they toured the city, but he knew that if he put Barry and Wendy off there would be hell to pay. He assured the twins that they'd get together later in the day and do something fun. He didn't have rehearsals until after Christmas, so they really had a bunch of free time.

"We need to discuss the tour," said Wendy when Skyler was seated at Barry's long dining room table across from her and Barry. "Laura tells us that the judge gave you guardianship for six months, but what happens after that?"

"The tour isn't going to take six months," replied Skyler. "The only thing that might slow us down is going to court to testify against my parents."

"Yes that's true," said Barry. "We've already talked to the attorney that is representing you, and she assures us that she can keep the case out of court for quite a while. My question is, do you want to start the tour on schedule."

"Of course," he said quickly. "I'll have plenty of time to find a tutor for the twins by the time we have to be in Seattle."

"You really shouldn't take your brother and sister along with you on this tour, Skyler," said Wendy, looking at the papers in front of her on the table.

"Look," said Skyler. "If you're going to try to stop me from taking the twins, then there isn't going to be a tour, Wendy. My family is more important to me than anything else in the world, so don't sit there and tell me that I shouldn't take them. They're going."

"Relax, Sky," said Barry as Wendy glared at him from across the table. "No one is saying that you can't take them with you, but you have to know that it's going to be hard on them. Sky, they've never spent that much time on the road before, and traveling with a tutor isn't going to be easy for them either."

"I've never spent that much time on the road before either," countered Skyler. "I'll be traveling with a tutor of my own for my college classes. If it will be too hard for the twins, then maybe it will be too hard for me."

They were each silent for a few minutes. Skyler had surprised them both. He'd never talked to Barry that way, and Wendy had been told that Skyler was usually sweet and complacent. What she saw before her was determination and anger. She knew that having something happen in your life like what had apparently happened in his could break a person, but she was impressed with Skyler Thomas. If he was sweet even for a fraction of the time that Barry and Laura insisted that he was then there was something inside this young man that Wendy thought would one day knock the world on their collective asses. She was impressed all right, and his protectiveness of his family only impressed her more.

He'd made a hard point with Barry about whether or not the twins could survive the tour. He was right. He'd never toured before. That was precisely why they'd only booked American cities for this tour. She hadn't met Cassie and Chad Thomas, but if they were anything at all like their older brother she knew that they'd not only survive the tour. They'd love the tour.

"You can take the twins on the tour with you, Skyler," she said, breaking the thick silence. "I'll even help you find a tutor for them that will travel with you. I'll make sure that everything is taken care of as quickly as possible, and you can start the tour on time."

"Are you sure . . ."

"Barry, do you want him to tour?" she asked, cutting Barry's words off. "Because if you do then the twins have got to go with him. He said it himself. If they don't go, he won't go."

Wendy called a tutor that was normally called in for younger clients when they had to tour or travel. The tutor was taken care of very quickly. His name was David Richards, and Wendy told Skyler that David would be calling him in the next day or two to set up a time to come and meet the twins. Hopefully by then she'd have the school records from Detroit.

Two hours later Skyler was back in his apartment with Laura and the twins. He'd explained to Laura what had been decided, and the twins erupted in excitement about going on tour with him. He was happy that they were excited, but he tried to make sure that they understood exactly what was going to happen and what it was going to be like. It was hard for him to explain what it would be like, because he'd never done anything like a tour in his life either.

"We'll be practically living on the bus, guys," he said. "We'll stay in hotels in every city, but from what they've told me the longest hotel stay will be no more than three days."

"But we get to watch your show in every city on the tour, Sky," beamed Cassie. "That's more than anyone else we know will be able to say."

"It'll be all right, Sky," said Chad. "We'll have fun."

"Are you sure?" he asked Chad. "You're giving up football to do this, Chad. I know how much you love that game."

"I love the game?" asked Chad, cocking his head to one side. "Skyler, did you love to study until you fell asleep with your face in your textbooks? Did you love all of the hard work that it took to get you into college?"

"What are you talking about?" he asked.

"Skyler, do you really think that I love to get pounded on the field all of the time?" asked Chad. "I mean I would have put my nose to the books too, Sky. But I'm not as smart as you are when it comes to the books. The only way I was going to get out of there was to play football. I won't miss the game, Sky. I'm already out of there."

Cassie voiced pretty much the same sentiment as her twin, and Skyler sighed with relief. He was worried about Chad's reasons for playing football, but that was not the time or place for that discussion. For the time being he decided to just be happy with the fact that they wanted to go on the tour with him. It would be difficult for all of them to adjust to life on the road, but he was sure that they could do it.

Over the course of the next few days Zack moved in with Phil, and the twins started taking turns sleeping in the empty bedroom. They met David Richards, and the twins liked him immediately. David assured Skyler that traveling with the tour wouldn't be a problem. He was used to tutoring on the road. Everything else just seemed to fall into place.

Skyler went shopping with Kristy to get presents for the twins, and he laughed when she told him that Brian had already taken the twins shopping. She said that he'd "loaned" them a bit of money so that they could buy presents for everyone they wanted. It seemed that his friends had taken to the twins rather quickly, and he was very happy about that.

When they got to the mall that day, Skyler had his first experience with fans. So far he'd been able to pretty much come and go from anywhere he wanted. He hadn't really tried to shop or anything since the tour had been announced, and he wasn't exactly prepared for the onrush of girls that surrounded him not even ten minutes after he walked into the mall.

He did his best to smile and pretend that he was excited, but he was actually kind of scared. Kristy had been virtually pushed aside as the fans surrounded Skyler. He signed autographs, shook hands and hugged for nearly two hours before he tried to tell them that he had to get going. They had other plans however, and Skyler nearly panicked when they started screaming his name. They tried to surround him, and they would have if not for mall security showing up and escorting him to Kristy's car.

"It was insane, Barry," he cried into the phone when he got back to the apartment. He was still shaking from the experience. He knew that half of it was just that he'd been nervous once he'd noticed that they were following him, but the fact that they weren't going to let him walk away had actually scared him. "You should have warned me or something."

"Skyler, we've tried to warn you," said Barry. "Why do you think I suggested that you let us hire security for you? This was bound to happen, and until it did you weren't going to see the need for security."

"I see it now," he said. "Hire anyone you like, Barry, but hire them fast."

The following day, Skyler did get his shopping done. They went to a different mall two hours before the stores were supposed to open. He had a bodyguard following close behind him everywhere he went as well. Barry had told him that Dean Pritchard was only temporary and that they'd have more staff for him once the tour started.

Dean was taller than Skyler, and his body was very muscular. He wore black jeans with a white shirt that stretched over his muscular torso. His coal black hair was cut military style, and his dark eyes were hard as he scanned the mall, looking for anyone who might have managed to sneak in before they go there. He didn't talk much, and Skyler thought the man smirked at him most of the time.

Skyler didn't care about what Dean thought of him. The important thing was that he got to go shopping. He wasn't happy about the fact that he had to do it while the mall was still closed, though. He felt isolated and alone. This was the part of being a celebrity that he'd been worried about from the beginning. How would he ever get used to sneaking in and out of hotels, shopping in empty stores and malls and hiding from the public most of the time?

Kristy, Brian and Gabrielle came to the apartment on Christmas Eve for dinner. Chad and Cassie were very excited throughout the day, and when everyone decided to exchanged the gifts they'd bought for each other Cassie glowed with excitement. Skyler loved seeing the twins so excited. As they opened presents from celebrities they'd only just met he loved his friends for making them feel like they'd always been among them.

Madonna called while Skyler was cleaning up, and she laughed when she heard the twins talking excitedly about their gifts. She told Skyler that she would be meet them in Seattle for the first show of his tour, and she wanted to do something nice for the twins while she was there. When he told her that he'd be taking them on the tour and about the argument he'd had with Barry and Wendy before they'd agreed, she laughed.

"Don't let them push you, Sky," she said. "Wendy will back down pretty easily, but I don't know Barry that well. Just remember that you're the one who's out there dancing and singing. They're just setting things up and collecting money. Never let them forget that without you the money stops."

"I never thought about it that way," he said thoughtfully. He didn't think he could actually talk to Barry like that, but Wendy always seemed to take his side in any argument.

"When do rehearsals begin again?" she asked, changing the subject.

"Anton said that he'd be back in New York on the twenty-sixth," relayed Skyler. "He told all of us to be ready by the twenty-seventh to start again."

"If he pushes you too hard, Skyler, just walk away from him," she said. "I've done some checking and he will push, but when you push back he'll respect you for it."

"Thanks for the advice," he laughed. "He hasn't pushed too hard as far as I'm concerned. I didn't know any of the moves he's taught us before I met him, so I'm cool with him."

"Just remember not to let any of them push you too far, Sky," she advised. "It won't kill them if you act like me from time to time. Just let them know that you're the artist and they work for you."

"I'll remember that," he promised.

"Now what about a new album?" she asked, changing the subject again. "Have you talked to Barry about letting you have more of your own songs on the album?"

"I've written three songs for the album," he admitted. "I just haven't told Barry about any of them but one. He keeps telling me there's plenty of time to talk about that."

"Is he going on tour with you?" she asked.

"He said he was going to be in select cities with me," replied Skyler.

"Right," she said sarcastically. "He just doesn't want to be the one freezing his ass off, trekking across the country all winter."

"Well next time I won't let them schedule any dates until at least March," he vowed.

"April is better," she said. "Unless you're going to Europe."

"I'll know if I'm ready for a tour like that after I finish this one," he laughed.

The next morning the twins woke him up at six to open presents. He laughed at their enthusiasm, but he stopped laughing when he saw what time it was. With a sigh he got out of bed, showered and opened presents with the twins before starting breakfast. The entire day was great. He had his brother and sister with him, they were happy and unharmed and he could shower them with love and attention again. He couldn't think of a better Christmas present than that.

Zack and Phil came over for dinner that night, and Zack brought presents for Skyler and the twins. They had a great night together playing video games on the new systems Skyler had bought for the twins. Zack and Phil looked happy together, and Skyler was very happy to see that. Zack was a great guy, and he deserved someone that would love him. He told him so before they left that night and got a tight hug in response.

The next few days were outrageous for Skyler. Anton had stepped up the pace of their rehearsals every day. They worked from morning until well into the evening, and Skyler was thinking that it might be time to say something. The other dancers were all groaning more than usual, but when he asked one about that he was told that they'd enjoyed their little break and weren't used to working so hard.

On New Year's Eve Skyler spent a quiet night at home with the twins. Barry had tried to get him to attend several parties, but all Skyler would consent to committing himself to doing was another episode of the "Rosie O'Donnell Show" the day before he flew to Seattle for his first show in the tour. It had already been decided that he would fly to Seattle after the rest of the dancers, band and crew. He would arrive with the twins on the day before the show to rehearse.

* * *

"Moving, moving," he sang as the audience cheered for him. He was a little blown away by them this time around. He'd been so emotionally involved the last time he'd sang on this stage that he hadn't thought much of the audience. Now he couldn't believe the feeling it gave him to hear them cheering. He was nervous, but on top of that he was exhilarated.

"Move away,

"Spirit changed the conversation. Stepping stones across the land. I never wanted to be a hero. I never wanted to be a man," he sang, dancing around on the small stage.

"I hurt you darling. I made you cry," he sang and was nearly stunned to silence when he heard the audience singing with him.

"I hurt you darling. Don't ask me why,

"Move, move, move away from me darling. I never said I'd hold your hand. Move, move, move away from me darling. I never said I'd understand

"If I could say this was judgment day, you know I'd be a millionaire," he sang and then danced around while the music played. He couldn't believe the feeling that dancing and singing for the audience gave him. It was like nothing he'd ever felt before. He couldn't believe that he'd been scared of this. This was incredible.

"I'm prepared to wear my sorrow everywhere we go in town. Ain't no need to beg or borrow while you're there to drag me down," he sang and smiled at the audience. "Justice, right?" he said.

"I need you so. I can't let go,

"Move, move, move away from me darling. I never said I'd hold your hand. Move, move, move away from me darling. I never said I'd understand.

"Move, move, move away from me darling. I never said I'd hold your hand. Why don't you move?"

They were on their feet and clapping and cheering. Skyler stood there, looking out at the audience. His heart was racing, and he was breathing hard but he loved that feeling. Maybe touring wouldn't be so bad after all, he thought as he stared at the crowd.

"So the tour kicks off two days from now in Seattle," said Rosie when they came back from commercial. He was sitting beside her desk now.

"At the Paramount Theatre," he said nodding. "I'm finally excited."

"You should be," she chuckled. "I hear that tickets went on sale in Seattle last week and sold out for three shows."

"I'd heard that," he said, smiling. "They sold out in Portland, too."

"Your CD is still selling like crazy, how many have sold so far?" she asked.

"Something like four million I think," he said, blushing.

"Well that's something to be excited about," she laughed. "I heard that you didn't even want to sing when you got to New York."

"Well I didn't mind singing 'Alone'," he said. "A few songs on the album weren't my favorites, but 'Dizzy' sure surprised me."

"That's the name of your tour, right?" she asked.

"Yeah, just another indication of how well the song is still doing," he laughed.

"Now we heard about your problems in Detroit, Skyler," said Rosie, looking at him with a sad expression. "How are your brother and sister?"

"They're doing great," he said. They'd talked about this before the show, and he'd agreed to talk a little about what had happened. "They're adjusting to life around all of this really quickly."

"I hear they're going on tour with you," she said. "What do they think of that?"

"They're more excited than I am," he said, smiling. "They're actually looking forward to getting on the road."

"You're not?" she asked.

"Well I'm ready," he said. "But buses, planes, hotel rooms . . . I'm not looking forward to life on the bus."

"So the tabloids are talking about you," she said, picking up a copy of "The Rag."

"Yes they are," he sighed. "They don't know what they're talking about though. That one says that my parents are dead and that I was forced to look after my brother and sister. Another said that I kidnapped them, and yet another said that I was wanted by the FBI for helping them run away. It's just crazy."

"But you didn't kidnap them, they didn't run away and your parents aren't dead," she said as he shook his head. "Your mother and step-father are in jail, is that right?"

"Yes," he said as his heartbeat started to get faster. "My step-father abused us all. I got out of the house when I went to college, but Cassie and Chad were stuck there with them. When I went home in December to spend time with my brother and sister I learned that things were bad there, so I called an attorney with Madonna's help, and we got them out of there. My parents have been arrested for neglect and abuse."

"That must have been hard," she said, shaking her head.

"It was," he said. "We're trying hard not to think about it, but with the press and everything it's hard not to think about it. Plus we know that we'll probably get started with the tour and then we'll have to fly to Detroit for court appearances. It's really stressful."

"We'll all be thinking of you, Skyler," she said as the audience applauded. "You and your brother and sister."

* * *

"Again!" cried Anton Nikolaievna. They'd been rehearsing all day. Skyler had arrived in Seattle with the twins the night before. The first show of the tour was the following night, and Anton was working them like crazy. "You are all going to be able to do this in your sleep before tomorrow's show if it kills all of us."

They danced and danced. Skyler was ready to fall over, but he kept dancing. He really wanted the show to be great, and he knew that Anton was one of the best choreographers around. If the man wanted them to work till midnight, Skyler wouldn't complain. As long as he could still stand on his feet the next day, he wouldn't say a word about how hard Anton worked him.

When they were finally let go from rehearsal, Skyler walked through the hotel with Niki Harris to cool off. He was sure that the dancers had it down, and he believed that at least the dancing parts of the show would be awesome. His singing was another matter. He'd thought after singing again on Rosie's show that he could do this, but as the day got closer he grew more and more nervous about standing on the stage and singing. The following afternoon there would be a sound check, and he would see the stage for the very first time. The crew was working on setting up the stage while they rehearsed.

"We got this," said Niki as she patted her face with a towel.

"I'm not worried about the dancers," said Skyler. "My voice is another thing."

"Your throat hurting?" she asked, looking at him hard.

"No nothing like that," he said, shaking his head. "Nerves."

"Oh you'll do just fine," she chuckled. "Just get out there and do your thing, Sky. They're going to love you."

"I'm not so sure," he sighed as they sat down in what she called the common room on the floor the entire show was staying on. "This is something I've never done before. I heard the show is sold out all three nights, and that's a lot of people, Niki."

"You'll be all right," she said. "Just don't think of it as a bunch of people, Sky. Think of them as dancers, cast members, friends and all of the other people you're used to singing in front of."

Later after a long hot shower, he crawled into bed with very sore muscles. He had no idea how he would be able to dance the next evening if his body hurt that badly. Perhaps he should have told Anton that he'd had enough the first time the man had called for them to do the entire routine over again. He wouldn't let him push him so hard in Portland. That was the last thought that registered in his mind before exhaustion took over and he slept.

At five the next morning his telephone started to ring for his wake up call. He slowly dragged himself out of bed and stumbled to the shower. He had to be in the common room for breakfast by six. He was supposed to be downstairs in a banquette room by seven-thirty to sit and pass out autographed eight by ten glossy pictures of himself to one hundred fans. At least his muscles didn't hurt nearly as bad as they had the night before, he thought as he dried off and got dressed.

"Good morning, Skyler," said Madonna when he made it to the common room.

"Hey," he said, smiling. He was happy to see her, and he wondered when she'd arrived. No one had told him the night before. "When did you get here?"

"Late last night," she said. "You were out of it."

"Anton worked us hard yesterday," he informed her. "I needed sleep."

"You ready for your big day?" she asked, passing him a plate of fruit and bagels.

"I'm as ready as I'll ever be," he said. "How long do you think I'll be in this little shin dig this morning?"

"It's called a 'meet and greet'," she laughed. "It shouldn't last more than two hours. You have that interview at ten right?"

"Yeah," he said before taking a drink of his juice. "Then lunch. Sound check is at four, and the show is at eight. Long day."

"It won't be so bad, Sky," she said. "Don't look like you're on your way to your execution."

"I'm nervous," he moaned. "Over two thousand people are going to be in that audience tonight."

"You've sang in front of an audience before, Sky," she said.

"Not an audience this big!" he cried.

"It'll be fine, Sky," she said, smiling. "I was scared before my first show too."

They talked about ways to distract him from the amount of people in the audience throughout breakfast. He felt no less nervous as he was led down to the banquette room for his meet and greet. Madonna worried about him, and she wondered where the tour manager was. She thought she might need to let him or her know that Skyler was scared to death.

Skyler sat at the long table set up at one end and eyed the tables filled with food for the fans. There were cameras everywhere, and he was ready to lose his breakfast. He had to get a grip on himself. If Madonna had been scared before her first show and lived through it, he would too. He just had to figure out how to calm his nerves. He could get through this. It was a simple act of mind over matter. He just had to figure out how to employ that act.

"Hello, Skyler," said an older woman with steely gray hair and glasses. "My name is Shirley Bellows, and I'm going to explain how this works. This is your first meet and greet, right?"

"Yes, ma'am," he replied quietly.

"All right, just relax," she said. "Everything is pretty simple. The fans will be let in, and you will start signing your pictures. It shouldn't take too long for that part of the event. Then you'll stand for pictures with a few of the fans. Any questions?"

"No, ma'am," he said. "I think I understand it pretty well."

"All right," she said. "We'll start letting the fans in here in about ten minutes. Do you need anything? A soda, bottle of water?"

"Water would be nice, thank you," he said.

"Be just a second," she said before crossing the room to the tables of food and drinks. She got him a bottle of water out of a cooler behind one of the tables and brought it back to him.

He sipped his water while he tried to calm down. This wasn't what made him nervous, so he didn't understand why his heart felt like it was about to break through his ribcage and hop across the table. He had to calm down somehow. When the doors opened and the fans started to come into the room, he put on his smile and reached for a stack of pictures.

For the next two hours, he signed pictures, answered questions and smiled at least a billion smiles. It all helped take his mind off of what was coming that evening. He lost himself in conversations with fans, and he was shocked that so much time had passed when Shirley Bellows announced that the event was over and started to usher the fans back out of the room.

He was ushered to an awaiting limousine outside of the hotel to be taken to his radio interview. He was surprised when he got into the car to find Niki sitting in the back seat, smiling at him. He'd thought that she would remain at the hotel with Madonna and the twins. He was happy to see her though, and he told her so.

"How'd it go?" she asked.

"Piece of cake," he said, smiling. "Actually time flew by. I didn't even know that it was time to stop until Mrs. Bellows started to usher the fans back out of the room."

"I decided to tag along to the interview to escape Anton," she said. "He was talking about waking up all of the dancers for another rehearsal, so I bolted."

"I don't blame you," laughed Skyler. "I'm going to have a talk with him and make sure that he doesn't work us so hard in Portland."

"Good," she said. "I sat in on Utopia's rehearsal last night. They're choreographer kept talking about resting, and she didn't work them nearly as hard."

"You know I haven't met any of those guys yet," said Skyler. "When I got here we went straight to our rooms, and then we were rehearsing and I was dog tired."

"I've met each one of them," she said. "Nice guys. Just be leery around Mickey. He's a joker."

"I'll remember that," he laughed.

Later at the sound check, Skyler sang "Move Away", "Alone" and "Dizzy". He was surprised that his voice didn't shake. He was actually in the theatre, and time was running short. He'd be back on stage in a few hours, and that time the seats would be full of people. That would be much different that singing for the crew, the dancers and the guys from Utopia.

He'd met them finally. They were an odd looking bunch. Carlos Marquez, the lead singer, was Latino with very short black hair and eyes. He was the most muscular of the group as well. Skyler's first thought on seeing Carlos was that he'd make a good work out partner. He would that was, as long as Skyler could keep from staring at him.

Mickey Splendt was the pretty boy of the group with spiked dark hair, tipped blond and blue eyes. He was thin and wiry, and there was an evil glint in his eyes. Skyler could easily see him playing pranks on his band mates. Even without Niki's warning, Skyler was sure that Mickey was one who would need to be watched closely and carefully.

Rusty Kirk was Cuban with an American name. He was probably the best looking of the bunch. His dark hair was a few shades lighter than Carlos's hair, and his eyes were more of a chocolate brown. Though he wasn't as muscular as Carlos, he had a great body. Skyler had seen it while they were doing their own sound check, because Rusty was shirtless.

Damon Cress was the one that caught Skyler's eye the most. He was the Italian of the group with a slightly longer face, hair as dark as Carlos's and gray eyes. He smiled at Skyler, and his smile nearly melted Skyler's knees. He was the other lead singer in the group, and Skyler couldn't wait to hear him sing again. His voice was amazing.

Jerry Riley was the youngest of the group, and the only one without what seemed to be Utopia's trademark olive skin and dark hair. He was shorter than any of his band mates with mousey brown hair that curled all over even though he'd tried to tame it. His eyes were as green as grass in the spring, and he smiled all of the time.

Skyler's group of dancers, the twins and Niki ate dinner with the group in another room in the theatre. They all talked about how much they liked Skyler's music, and Damon continued to smile at Skyler throughout the meal. Skyler was afraid that he'd embarrass himself when he stood if Damon kept flashing that smile at him.

Skyler was nervous all over again when he noticed that Utopia had only ten minutes until they had to be on stage. That meant that he had a little more than two hours before he had to be on stage himself. He looked at Niki, and she reached over and squeezed his hand. Skyler took a deep breath as the guys from Utopia headed to the dressing room to change before getting out on stage.

* * *

"I'm just a love machine, and I won't work for nobody but you. I'm just a love machine. A huggin', kissin' fiend," he could hear Carlos singing on stage as he sent the twins out to watch the show.

"They sound good," said Niki from behind him.

"Yeah they do," agreed Skyler quietly. He was ready to throw up again. He wished he could get his nerves under control.

"Well we'd better go change into the first costume," she said, eyeing him wearily. "You'll be fine, Sky."

He tried to smile at her, but he wasn't sure that he was successful. He walked off toward his dressing room and mentally willed his stomach to be calm. He tried to convince himself that everything would be all right. It really wasn't as if he'd never sang in front of people before. He tried to remember how he'd done it in high school when he'd sang in those musicals.

As he changed into the first costume for the show, he told himself to think of it as another musical like he'd been able to sing in front of people in high school. If he could wrap his mind around that he'd have it made. All he had to do was imagine that it was parents, faculty and teenagers that he'd gone to school with, and everything might be all right.

"Heartbeat, heartbeat, why do you keep me here? How help but admire her beauty, standing on the line between desire and duty? Heartbeat, heartbeat, it'll end in tears," he heard Damon singing in that silky voice of his as Madonna came into the dressing room.

"How are you holding up?" she asked.

"I'm coping," he said, trying to smile again. This time he thought he was a bit more successful.

"You'll get through it," she said. "Once you feel the power of that audience cheering for you it won't make you feel so nervous anymore. Think of it that way, Skyler. These people are here to see you. These people love you, Skyler. They didn't come to see Utopia. They came to see you."

"I have tried to think of it that way, M," he said. "It's hard. I'm also trying to convince myself that this is no different than those little musicals I did in high school."

"That's another way to look at it, Sky," she said, nodding. "You'll be fine. I promise you that once you get out there and start singing, you'll feel better."

"If you say so," he sighed.

"We're running with the shadows of the night. So baby take my hand, you'll be all right. Surrender all your dreams to me tonight. They'll come true in the end, " came Carlos's voice as Niki came into the room dressed almost exactly like Skyler.

"How's he doing?" she asked Madonna.

"He'll be all right," replied Madonna. "Once he gets out there he'll love it."

"That's what I told him," said Niki.

"I'm still sitting here, you know," said Skyler. "You guys can talk to me."

That got all three of them laughing, and Skyler felt a lot better after he could finally stop laughing. He loved the two women for being able to calm his nerves even slightly. He knew that Madonna was right. Once he got out there he probably would be fine. He just had to get over his nerves long enough to get out there.

After another pep talk from Madonna and Niki, Skyler followed Niki out of the dressing room to join the dancers as they waited for their turn to take the stage. He kept telling himself that he would be fine. He would get out there and sing, and everything would be great. His voice wouldn't shake or crack, and he'd love it.

"99 dreams I have had. In every one a red balloon. It's all over and I'm standing pretty. In this dust that was a city. If I could find a souvenir just to prove the world was here. And here is a red balloon, I think of you and let it go," sang Damon, and that was their last song.

It was time for Skyler to take the stage.

"Move Away" is by Culture Club. "Love Machine" and "Heartbeat" are by Wham! "Shadows Of The Night" is by Pat Benatar, and "99 Red Balloons" is by Goldfinger.

The Concert Chapter Link Is Below At The Bottom

The Next Chapter Will Be Posted Soon.

Skyler Thomas File
Concert 1