© 2005-2010 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 10

"The song shocked the hell out of me," Madonna told Skyler while the two of them sat at a table at The Viper Room. Maverick had thrown a party for Skyler, Utopia, the dancers and the crew to celebrate the end of the tour.

"It shocked me too," replied Skyler. "Laura didn't know what to say when she heard it. I told her that Barry was out of the question when she started talking about a manager though."

"Good call," said Madonna. "Have you talked to anyone about managing you?"

"I was thinking about asking Debbie to manage me," replied Skyler. "She did a great job with the tour."

"Skyler, that's all Debbie knows is tours," warned Madonna. "She wouldn't know the first thing about managing anything else."

"I don't know who else to talk to," admitted Skyler.

"Let me make a few phone calls," she suggested. "You're still going with me to the premier right?"

Madonna had invited Skyler to the premier of Wide Awake, the movie that Rosie O'Donnell was staring in. She wouldn't let him say no, but he was actually looking forward to seeing the film. He'd already made sure that there was nothing pressing for him to do for a few days, and that had been difficult.

"I sure am," he replied. "I can't wait to see it."

"Well I should have something for you by then," she said. "I may know of someone who will manage you and Chad."

"You're going with me to that benefit right?" asked Skyler.

Laura had told him that a call had come in asking that Skyler attend the benefit for a young homosexual that had been beaten to death in Orlando, Florida. She said that Tobias Clemmons, the victim had been a fan of Skyler's, and his parents had told her that he listened to "Calling You" all of the time. Skyler had not only agreed to attend the benefit, but he'd told her to book him for a song. After talking to Niki, and getting her to agree the two were slated to sing the single at the benefit.

"I'm singing at the benefit," she said. "Niki said that she's singing with you right?"

"Yeah," he replied, nodding.

"Good," she replied. "That means we'll be spending a little time together."

They both circulated through the room after their short conversation. Skyler talked with more people than he could remember names for, and he finally ended up sitting again. This time his companions were Brian Krause and Kristy Swanson. He'd missed them both like crazy while he was touring, and it was nice to sit and talk with them again.

"So what's on your agenda now that the tour is over?" asked Brian.

"Well first I need to find a new manager," replied Skyler. "I'm also reading a script for a movie. It doesn't have a director yet, but I'm hoping to get a part."

"Oh I'm sure you'll get a part," said Kristy. "What's it about?"

"A riot here in New York," replied Skyler. "I can't even decide which role I want."

"Who are they trying to get to direct?" asked Kristy. "I haven't even heard anything about the movie."

"Well Laura only got a copy of the script because she knows the writer," replied Skyler. "As for who they want to direct I have no clue."

"So what are you doing tomorrow?" asked Brian, raising his voice to be heard over the music.

"I have a meeting with Laura and the Maverick people," replied Skyler. "I've been trying to set up a meeting with them for weeks, and it took Barry resigning to get them to call me back."

"What was that all about anyway?" he asked.

"Barry threw a fit over my wanting more freedom," said Skyler. "He didn't like being reminded that he worked for me."

"So who are you going to get to manage you?" asked Kristy. "From the way you and Madonna were huddled together I thought maybe she was going to be your manager."

"Right," laughed Skyler. "Madonna has her own career to worry about. She can't spend time on mine. She's gonna call a few people for me though."

By the time Skyler got home he was so tired that all he could do was fall into bed. He'd had a great time at the party, but he was glad that anything associated with the tour was finally over. He had the meeting to worry about now, and that would be in less than ten hours. He thought about what he was going to say as he fell asleep.

The next morning Skyler was driven to the New York office of Maverick Entertainment in a limousine sent by Maverick. He chuckled to himself as he thought that they would do anything to sweeten him up before the bottom line was drawn. What they didn't know was that Skyler was the one who was going to be laying down the law this time. He wasn't going to sit by and let anyone dictate what he was going to sing anymore. Those days were over, and he wasn't going to let them take over for Barry.

In one of the conference rooms on the top floor of their office building Skyler met with Wendy Bartlett, Joyce Brooks, Donald Rudd and Madonna. He was shocked to see her at the meeting, but she smiled at him as he sat down. He thought that at least one person in the room would be on his side. He just hoped that her partnership status would make the others listen.

"Skyler, we called you here today to discuss Barry Graham," said Wendy, opening the meeting. "With his resignation you're without management."

"I'm aware of that," he replied evenly, looking back at her without an expression. "I'm already looking for a replacement."

"We have a few people in mind that we'd like for you to talk to," said Donald.

"Well I already have someone looking into this matter for me," said Skyler, glancing at Madonna who nodded. "I don't think I'll be meeting with anyone until I have more information."

"Well we were hoping that you would return to the studio," Joyce said quickly. "The new album has to be recorded, and we have quite a few songs to get through."

"I can tell you right now that I'm not going back into the studio any time soon," he said still keeping emotion out of his voice. "When I do I'll be singing songs that I choose. I have been writing . . ."

"Well your contract states that . . ."

"I think we should let Skyler finish what he was saying, Wendy," said Madonna, cutting the woman off. "He says he's been writing songs, and I've heard two of them. Now I can assure you that what he's let me hear is very good. If he wants more freedom over his album I'm inclined to give it to him."

They all grew silent after that. Wendy, Joyce and Donald looked like they'd swallowed something that tasted very awful, and Madonna wore a pleased expression. Skyler just looked at them blankly. Inside he was jumping for joy that Madonna had come to the meeting. He didn't understand why she'd chosen to step in for him, but he was thankful that she had. Without her there it would have been very hard for him to get what he wanted.

"What I was saying, before I was interrupted," he said, looking at Wendy, "was that I've written three songs for the album, and I plan to write more. If I can't have the freedom to write my own music, then I won't do another album for a while."

"Your contract . . ."

"I've read my contract carefully, Joyce," said Skyler, cutting her off. "It says three albums. There is no time limit, and as long as I record two more albums I'll fulfill the contract. I assure you that if I'm not given freedom over those albums, they will be the last I record under the Maverick label."

"He's serious by the way," said Madonna when Skyler finished. "Believe me when I say that Maverick would be very unhappy to lose Skyler. His album has already sold over four million copies, and that's a very successful debut."

"That doesn't give him the right to come in here and make demands," said Donald hotly, glaring at Skyler.

"I warn you," replied Skyler, "I don't take kindly to being ordered around. Remember that without me, the money will stop. I'm well aware of the fact that I'm not your only artist on the label, but I am also well aware that the only person selling more albums than I am currently is Madonna."

"Perhaps you've let fame go to your head," mumbled Donald just loud enough for Skyler to hear.

"Be very careful, Donald," snapped Skyler. "The last man that said that to me stopped being my manager. Do you want to be responsible for Maverick no longer being my record company? I'll only say this once so listen very closely," he said to the others. "I don't ever want to see this man again. When everyone is ready to talk reasonably I'll come back."

With that he got to his feet, and even Madonna looked startled. He walked out of the conference room and headed for the elevator. He was furious and embarrassed at the same time. All he had been trying to do was take Madonna's advice, but letting Donald get under his skin wasn't exactly professional. He thought he'd be lucky if Maverick even wanted to release another Skyler Thomas album after what had happened in the meeting.

He wasn't home more than a minute before his telephone started ringing. He stared at it for a few minutes, trying to decide if he wanted to answer it. In the end the machine picked up the call, and Skyler expected someone to start screaming by the time the tone sounded to let them leave a message. He wouldn't have been surprised. Instead what he heard shocked the hell out of him.

"Skyler, it's Madonna," came her voice on the machine. "I don't know if you're home yet, so I'll assume you aren't. When you get this message call me back. I'm still at Maverick, and I've decided to force the issue here. Come back to the office and talk, Skyler. I won't let Donald near you. You have my word."

"M, I'm home," he said after he picked up the phone. "What do you mean about forcing the issue?"

"Well I've got them ready to renegotiate your contract," she said. "Laura is already on her way to the office, and I'm sending the car back for you."

"Thanks," he sighed. "I acted like an idiot."

"No you didn't," she chuckled. "You acted like me. You got their attention, Sky. They're afraid that you'll break your contract now."

"I wouldn't do that," he replied quickly.

"I know that, but they don't," she said. "They really believe that you fired Barry and that he was trying to save face by calling that press conference."

"I don't want to talk about Barry right now," laughed Skyler.

"Well I have someone else coming to the meeting," she said. "Clay Silver. He's a manager, Sky. A good one."

That was how he found himself seated across from Wendy, Joyce, Madonna and a man he'd never seen before. He was at least in his mid to late fifties with salt and pepper hair and very dark eyes. He wore a serious expression as he glanced at Laura and Sky sitting across from him. Skyler thought he must be Clay Silver.

"We're open to discussing new options, Skyler," said Wendy when they were all seated.

"You mean that you're ready to negotiate all over again, Wendy," said Madonna, looking at the woman hard. "Do I have to remind you what was said before Skyler got here?"

"We will write a new contract, Skyler," said Joyce. "We're ready to negotiate."

"What do you mean?" asked Laura. "Skyler already has a contract."

"Yes, but he isn't happy with the way he's been treated, Laura," said Madonna. "Now he has a chance to make some changes in his contract. I should warn you both though, if you want anything you'll have to give a little in return."

"What do you mean?" asked Skyler, looking at Madonna worriedly. Had she gotten him into more trouble?

"We are prepared to let you have total freedom on your future albums as long as you listen to advice from a more experienced person than yourself," said Wendy. "You may choose your advisor yourself."

"What we're asking in return is that you record four more albums with us instead of two," added Joyce. "You'll have final say over which songs make each album of course."

"Will I also have the freedom to work with whoever I choose?" he asked, eyeing Madonna.

"Producers, guest artists and your advisor are completely up to you, Skyler," said Joyce.

"When can I sign the new contract?" asked Skyler.

"We're having it typed up," replied Joyce. "In the mean time there's the fact that you have no manager to discuss."

"Skyler, I want you to meet Clay Silver," said Madonna, putting her hand on the arm of the man sitting next to her. Skyler had assumed that was who he was. "He's partly responsible for what's happened here today. When I called him and explained what was going on he decided to have a talk with Walter Moore, another partner about how much you mean to Maverick."

"Very nice to meet you, Mr. Silver," said Skyler, shaking the man's outstretched hand. "Thank you for what you did."

"Call me Clay," replied the man. "I was happy to do it, and I'm hoping that you and I can work together."

"I think I'd like that," said Skyler, smiling. He really was happy for what the man had done, and if Madonna endorsed him then Skyler was sure he was going to be a good manager.

"Clay, have you met Skyler's agent?" asked Madonna, indicated Laura. "Laura Ullman."

"We've met quite a few times actually," said Laura, smiling. "Very nice to see you again, Clay."

"The pleasure is mine, Laura," replied Clay, smiling back at her. "It seems that we're going to be working together."

Another man, younger than Clay came into the room with a stack of papers in his hand. He handed the papers to Madonna and walked out of the room. Madonna looked over what he'd handed her and smiled. When she handed a stapled stack of papers to Clay, Skyler was sure that it was his contract. His thought was confirmed when Madonna handed him the other stack.

Skyler read with Laura reading over his shoulder. The contract stated that Skyler would record four albums, but marketing, touring and content were up to him. He glanced at the amount of money mentioned in the contract, and he managed to stifle a gasp. Laura didn't however. When Skyler looked at her, she was staring at him with wide eyes and an open mouth. The contract said that his advance for the four albums would be two million dollars per album.

"So when do you want to go back into the studio?" asked Clay while Skyler sat at a table at The Crystal Room with Clay, Madonna and Laura.

"I'm not really sure," he replied. "I'm reading a script right now, and I'm really hoping to gain a part in the film when they are ready to start filming."

"That has been finalized, Skyler," said Laura. "Sonny Seinhamn will be directing the movie, and he's already said that you can have a part. You and I will be having dinner with him tonight to discuss that."

"He said I can just have a part?" said Skyler. "No audition?"

"No audition," she confirmed. "He said that he was very impressed with your work on 'Secrets Of the Morning', and he wants you in the movie."

"Which studio picked it up?" asked Madonna.

"Warner," replied Laura. "They're about ready to start holding auditions."

"Skyler, that puts you right back with Maverick," said Madonna. "They'll probably do the soundtrack, so if you want to write something for it this would be a good way to put a song out without recording an album."

"I might do that," replied Skyler, thinking that it was a good idea. He wanted to have music out there, but he really wasn't ready to record an entire album.

"When could I hear some of what you've written, Skyler?" asked Clay.

"Well I'm working on another song right now," he replied. "I'm toying with the music a bit, but I have to confess that I have no clue what I'm really doing. I do know what sound I want the song to have, but I can only play guitar and some piano."

"Are you talking about the lyrics that you let me read?" asked Madonna.

"Yeah," he replied. "I'm happy with the lyrics, but I want a specific sound for the song."

"What kind of sound?" asked Madonna and Clay at the same time. They smiled at each other.

"Kind of a mild techno sound I think," replied Skyler. "I'm not really sure. I was going to ask Madonna to call a few musicians and let me hear some of their work."

"We could do that," said Clay. "Why don't we get together in a few days to work on the song?"

"That sounds good, but I'll be in Florida for a week," he said. "I leave the sixteenth, and from there I'm going to LA to spend some time with friends and attend the Oscars."

"You'll be back on the thirtieth right?" asked Laura as she looked through her calendar.

"That was the plan," he replied. "That will give me some time with the gang there."

"Well why don't we meet after the first of the month to work on the song, and we can talk about the album," said Clay.

"That's fine," said Skyler. "Just remember that I may not be ready to go into the studio by then."

"Completely understood," nodded Clay. "I just would like to get an idea of what you're planning for the album and who you're wanting to work with."

"Sounds good," replied Skyler.

"Madonna tells me that your younger brother, Chad is also a singer," said Clay.

"He wrote a song and played it for me," said Skyler. "The song is great, and he sounds amazing to me. I was going to ask Laura to look around for him, but if you'd like to hear him I can probably set that up before I leave."

"I'd like to hear it," he replied. "Does he have a manager?"

"This is the first song he's ever written," said Skyler. "He wrote it while we were on tour. He's never recorded anything."

"Well maybe I can change that," said Clay, smiling.

When Skyler told Chad that he thought he had found him a manager Chad was ecstatic. He wanted to record his song right then and there, and Skyler laughed at his enthusiasm. He cautioned him not to get his hopes up. Chad calmed down a bit once Laura got there. She talked to him about what Clay had said, and then she told him that while Skyler was with Madonna the next day she would take him to see Clay at Maverick. They excused themselves to leave for dinner with the director, and Chad wished him luck.

Sonny Seinhamn was a thirty year old man with a shaved head and piercing blue eyes. He smiled at Skyler and made him feel comfortable from the moment that Skyler and Laura arrived at Gabitoni's for dinner with him. He spoke directly to Skyler instead of going through Laura as if Skyler wasn't sitting across the table from him. Skyler liked that. He was so tired of being talked around, and Sonny seemed to really hang on everything that Skyler had to say.

"I'm very excited about this picture," he told Skyler. "I was even more exited when I learned that you were interested in a part. I've seen you on television, and I saw you perform in Canada. I was blown away."

"Thank you," said Skyler, smiling. "I wish you had let me know you were at the show. I would have done something for you."

"Oh just seeing you perform was enough to make the night worth while," said Sonny. "It was seeing you perform 'How Do You Get That Lonely' that made me want to work with you."

"That song is very personal to me," Skyler said. "I wrote it after I heard that a close friend had committed suicide."

"I'd read about that in your 'GQ' interview," replied Sonny. "Very compelling song."

"Thank you," said Skyler.

"Will you be recording anything for the soundtrack of the film?" he asked.

"I'd like to," replied Skyler. "I've been reading the script, and I have some ideas."

"Do you know which role you'd like to play?" asked Sonny.

"The character that stands out for me is Neil," Skyler said slowly. "I would very much like to tackle that role."

"Neil is the character that is addicted to heroine right?" asked Laura, who until that moment had remained silent after introducing Skyler and Sonny.

"Yes," said Skyler. "I think its a very powerful role."

"Aren't you afraid that the role might hurt your clean cut image?" she asked carefully.

"I'm not worried," he replied.

Two days later Skyler boarded a plane with Madonna, Niki and Cassie to head to Orlando, Florida. Chad was staying behind to record his song and work with Clay. The two had played a few songs together while Skyler had been with Madonna and Rosie at the premiere the night before. Skyler was proud of Chad, but he didn't like leaving him behind while he flew off to Orlando.

"He'll be fine, Sky," said Madonna from beside him as the plane began its assent from the airstrip. "Clay won't let anything happen, and Kristy's flying with him tomorrow. It's only one day."

"I know," he replied. "It's just hard to leave either one of them behind. I'm happy that he's recording though."

"He was so excited, Sky," said Cassie from across the isle. "He barely slept last night."

"I know," laughed Skyler, remembering his little brother tossing and turning in the bed beside him all night long.

"So tell me about Tobias Clemmons," said Madonna in an attempt to take his mind off of Chad.

"I don't really know all that much," he replied. "His mother said that he was a fan of my music, and he played 'Calling You' all of the time, so Niki and I are going to sing it at the benefit."

"The money from this is supposed to start some kind of foundation right?" she asked.

"Yeah," he replied. "'The Tobias Clemmons Foundation' is what they're trying to get funding for. They want to raise money to open a shelter for victims of hate crimes."

"How do you shelter victims of a hate crime?" asked Niki.

"Well I asked about it," he said. "They told me that what they would do is offer housing for people who were victims of hate crimes that resulted in the loss of their homes, help fund lawsuits against attackers and help pay medical bills for the victims."

"That sounds great," said Madonna. "How did you find out about all of this?"

"I just talked to his mother for three hours on the telephone," replied Skyler. "I'm thinking about donating to the foundation or something."

"Oh I'm definitely going to donate money," said Madonna. "I'm wondering who is ultimately in charge of the foundation."

"His parents," replied Skyler. "They say they think they're in over their heads, but they want to do this in their son's memory."

"Well maybe we can help," said Madonna.

"I'm way ahead of you," he said. "I'm going to sit down and talk with his parents about sponsoring the foundation at the very least."

"Did they catch the people who killed Tobias?" asked Cassie.

"Yes," he replied. "They're on trial right now."

"I hope they convict them," said Niki.

"And give them the death penalty," added Madonna.

As soon as they landed in Orlando the press began screaming questions at them. Skyler wouldn't have commented on anything, but he was there for the benefit so first he, then Madonna told them that they were behind the Clemmons family one hundred percent. They answered no questions and hurried to the waiting cars that would take them to their hotel.

Skyler sat alone in his hotel room thinking about Brian Littrell. It was strange to be in Orlando where Brian was currently living, when he was off on tour. The two of them had been calling each other at least twice a week, but Skyler really wanted to sit down and talk to him face to face. He no longer tried to convince himself that he wasn't in love with Brian. He just hoped that Brian would at least remain his friend if he ever found out. He didn't think he could stand it if Brian just stopped talking to him all together.

At three that afternoon he met with Beverly and Phillip Clemmons, the parents of Tobias. They'd offered to come to the hotel, but Skyler had insisted that he'd come to their home to talk with them. He was no stranger to poverty, and the modest two story house that they lived in was in better shape than the one he'd grown up in. He found them to be charming even in grief. Beverly looked to Skyler like the typical housewife with pale blond hair that she kept tied behind her head and watery blue eyes. She was slightly overweight, but Skyler thought she was beautiful. Phillip reminded Skyler of Mark in a lot of ways. He had the same dark hair and brown eyes, and his build was a lot like what Skyler thought Mark's would be when he reached middle age.

"We're honored to have you come here," he said when Skyler sat down at their kitchen table to discuss the benefit. "Toby was one of your biggest fans."

"Thank you," replied Skyler. "I'm so sorry for your loss."

"It's been hard," said Beverly. "We've had to sit in that courtroom every day, watching the monsters that took our Toby away from us. He was only eighteen years old. Far too young to die."

"Beverly," said Phillip, reaching over to take her hand as tears spilled down her cheeks.

"I'm sorry," she said, wiping her eyes with the backs of her hands before taking her husband's offered hand.

"No need to apologize," he replied. "I can't even imagine what you're going through, but I want you to know that if there is anything I can do I hope that you won't ever hesitate to ask."

"What you've agreed to do already is just fine, Mr. Thomas," said Phillip, clearing his throat and looking embarrassed.

"Please," said Skyler, "call me Sky, and its the very least I can do. I want to do something more."

"What did you have in mind?" asked Beverly.

"Well you told me on the phone that you and your husband are the only people responsible for the foundation," he said, and they nodded. "I was thinking of taking on an active role in the foundation. Madonna and I were talking about it on the plane, and we both want to help in any way we can."

"That would be wonderful," said Beverly with tears in her eyes. "The foundation would make more money with your name or Madonna's attached to it."

"Wel, the foundation would still keep its title," said Skyler quickly. "We were thinking of sitting on a board of some sort to make sure that money continued to flow into the foundation."

They talked about that for a while, and in the end they asked that he and Madonna act as founders along with them. When he mentioned Niki Harris they knew who she was, and they were thrilled to add her to the founders list. Skyler didn't know if he'd made the right decision, but he'd wanted to be a part of the foundation.

That evening he told Niki and Madonna what they had said. They were both happy to be named as founders of the foundation. Madonna agreed that the foundation would pull in more money with their names attached to it even if it was only announced that they were founders. Madonna made a few calls and set up a press conference for the day after the benefit. She said that the best way to flood the foundation with money was to announce to the world that they'd created it.

It had been explained to them that The Florida Metropolitan University Orchestra, with whom he had played cello would be playing their music while they sang. The next morning they headed over to the Platinum Center where the benefit dinner was being held to rehears with the orchestra. Madonna commented on how amazing they sounded. Skyler hadn't been able to take his eyes off of the empty seat among the cello players. That empty seat was where Tobias would have sat to play if he were alive.

Skyler talked to their conductor after rehearsal to ask about recording the song with the orchestra. He explained that he would donate all money made by the song, once it was released to the foundation. The conductor thought it was a great idea and promised to talk it over with the members of the orchestra.

"Hey singing traveler," laughed Skyler when Chad and Kristy got off the plane later that day. "How'd it go?"

"We're going to record an album!" cried Chad in excitement. "Clay and Laura are going to help me, and I'm going to be on the same label as you!"

"That's great," replied Skyler, smiling. "I hope you're ready for all of this, kid."

"If you can do it so can I," laughed Chad. "Maybe we can even tour together."

"He hasn't even recorded his first album and he's already talking about touring," Skyler laughed to Kristy. He hugged her, and she told him all about how Chad had talked her ear off on the plane about the album.

"So how was rehearsal?" she asked once they were in the car.

"It was amazing," he said. "The Florida Metropolitan University Orchestra is playing the music, and I'm really wanting to record the song that way. I'd release it as a single and donate all of the money it makes to the foundation."

"That sounds good," she said. "I can't wait to hear it."

"Well show time is at seven," he laughed.

When Chad saw Madonna and Niki he told them all about recording the song for Maverick and about his pending album. Skyler had never seen him so excited. Cassie was excited for him too, and between the two of them Skyler didn't know what to say. He did like the idea of touring with Chad after his album was released.

Chad talked about recording his song all the way to the Platinum Center, but when he saw all of the cars and limousines in front of the shining building he fell silent. Skyler and Madonna answered questions for the press as the group walked into the building. Skyler told them that he was saddened by the brutality that was going unpunished in America, and he told them that his prayers went out to the Clemmons family and all families of hate crime victims.

The lobby of the building was filled with tables. Each table was selling merchandise to profit the foundation, and Madonna, Kristy and Skyler sat behind tables of their own to sign autographs. They'd decided on the way to the benefit to sign each picture "Remember Tobias" before they added their signature. Skyler thought that was a nice way to honor the young man, and Madonna agreed. They signed autographs until the doors to the hall were opened and people were seated at their tables.

"I told them to save a shirt for each of us," said Skyler, joining Cassie, Chad and Niki at their table. The shirts were black long sleeved shirts with the words "Remember Tobias" on the front and a picture of Tobias Clemmons on the back. They were selling for fifty dollars.

The others were happy with the knowledge that they'd each receive a shirt, but they quieted down as Beverly Clemmons addressed the guests. She thanked them for coming to show their support and talked a bit about the foundation, but she didn't mention that Skyler or Madonna were co-founders. They'd told her that they would be holding a press conference to announce that the following day.

The orchestra was on the stage when the curtains were drawn back, and waiters began serving plates as the orchestra played "Fir Elise". Skyler loved the way that they played, and the piece brought tears to his eyes. He noticed that it was having the same effect on Niki, and they smiled at each other. They ate their veal as the orchestra ended "Fir Elise" and began to play "Rhapsody On A Theme". Each piece that the orchestra played gained a melancholy sound in the light of what they were playing for.

They talked quietly as they ate, and they all avoided any topic that was unpleasant. The music had set a tone for the audience, and it was somber. Skyler talked to the twins about the foundation and what they were planning to do. So far they planned to donate five hundred thousand dollars each to get the foundation going. Skyler had learned that the Clemmons had liquidated their savings just to pay for this event. Expense left over was paid for by donations from friends and family. They talked about getting money together to build the shelter that Beverly had talked about as Madonna excused herself to go to the stage.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Phillip Clemmons's microphone enhanced voice from the stage. "It's time for us to introduce tonight's first special guest. She was a favorite singer of Toby's, and we were honored when she consented to singing here tonight. Please welcome Madonna."

The audience applauded as Madonna took a seat on the stool to the left of the conductor. The orchestra began to play the music to "Live To Tell" and the audience applause grew louder. The conductor handed Madonna a microphone, and the audience grew quiet.

"I have a tale to tell. Sometimes it gets so hard to hide it well. I was not ready for the fall, too blind to see the writing on the wall," sang Madonna.

"A man can tell a thousand lies. I've learned my lesson well. Hope I live to tell the secret I have learned, 'till then it will burn inside of me," she sang and put her head down while the orchestra played.

"I know where beauty lives. I've seen it once, I know the warm she gives. The light that you could never see, it shines inside, you can't take that from me,

"A man can tell a thousand lies. I've learned my lesson well. Hope I live to tell the secret I have learned, 'till then it will burn inside of me,

"The truth is never far behind. You kept it hidden well. If I live to tell the secret I knew then, will I ever have the chance again?" she sang and put her head back down while the music played.

"If I ran away, I'd never have the strength to go very far. How would they hear the beating of my heart. Will it grow cold, the secret that I hide, will I grow old? How will they hear? When will they learn? How will they know?

"A man can tell a thousand lies. I've learned my lesson well. Hope I live to tell the secret I have learned, 'till then it will burn inside of me. The truth is never far behind. You kept it hidden well. If I live to tell the secret I knew then, will I ever have the chance again?" she sang, and the audience cheered.

"Thank you very much for coming tonight," she said as Philip Clemmons returned to the stage. Madonna held her check for five hundred thousand dollars and held it out to Philip.

"Please accept this five hundred thousand dollar check for 'The Tobias Clemmons Foundation'," she said as the audience applauded.

"Thank you," replied Philip as tears ran down his cheeks. "My wife and I are so thankful that you came to perform tonight."

"This is something that the world needs to understand can not be tolerated," she said. "I wanted to show my support."

"Thank you," he said, and the audience applauded again.

Madonna and Philip left the stage, and the orchestra played another piece, this one Skyler couldn't name as the waiters returned to clear the dishes from the table and fill wine glasses. Their waiter was just filling Madonna's glass when she returned the table. She smiled at Skyler, but he could see the tears in her eyes. The song was wonderful and the orchestra had played beautifully, but that melancholy tone had shrouded the song It had pulled at his heart strings too. He wiped his eyes as he and Niki rose to head for the stage.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, it's time to introduce a pair of special guests," said Philip when the orchestra grew silent and he saw that Skyler and Niki were waiting. "The young man I'm about to introduce was Toby's favorite singer. He listened to his music and watched his videos and television appearances faithfully. Here to sing Toby's favorite song is Skyler Thomas with special guest, Niki Harris."

The audience cheered as Niki and Skyler walked on stage. The orchestra began their somber rendition of "Calling You" and Niki and Skyler picked up their microphones.

"A desert road from Vegas to nowhere, someplace better than where you've been. A coffee machine that needs some fixin' in a little cafe just around the bend," sang Skyler, making the audience applaud again.

"I am calling you," sang Niki.

"Can't you hear me?" he sang.

"I am calling you," she sang.

"A hot dry wind blows right through me. The baby's crying and I can't sleep, but we both know that a change is coming. Come in closer, sweet release," he sang, looking at Phillip and Beverly in the front row.

"I am calling you," sang Niki in that haunting voice that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

"Can't you hear me?" he sang, not taking his eyes away from the Clemmons.

"I am calling you," she sang, closing her eyes and drawing out the last word.

"Desert road from Vegas to nowhere. Someplace better than where you've been," he sang, getting to his feet.

"I am calling you," sang Niki as she stood and moved beside him.

"Can't you hear me?" he sang, facing her.

"I am calling you," she sang.

"A hot dry wind blows right through me, but we both know that a change is coming," he sang to the Clemmons.

"I am calling you," Niki sang, looking at Skyler.

"Can't you hear me?" he sang, looking back at her.

"I am calling you," she sang again.

"Why can't you hear me?" he sang in a voice that nearly cracked with the emotion he was feeling.

"I am calling you," she sang, drawing out the last word until after the music stopped.

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten
we belong to each other."

Mother Teresa

graphic by Melody Creations

"Calling You" is by Queen. "Live To Tell" is, of course by Madonna.

The next chapter will be posted soon.