© 2005-2015 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 101

It was deadly quiet in the living room of the suite. The only sound came from the television, a language none of them could understand. Pictures of Skyler, Jeff, Lance, Carlos, JC, Justin and Brian kept appearing on the screen. They all stood in the living room in shocked silence. Jeff continued to hold Skyler's hand until his cell phone started to ring. Skyler's was next and then Jason's. Skyler answered his phone to hear Clay talking faster than he'd ever heard him talk before. He kept trying to get Clay to stop so he could say something but all he heard was that his career was in jeopardy and that his phones were ringing nonstop. Finally he took a breath.

"I'm in the penthouse suite of the Hotel De Rome," he said into the silence. "You, Gavin and Dianne need to come over here so we can figure this out. Clay, no cameras."

"We'll be there in half an hour, Skyler," replied Clay. "No cameras."

His phone started ringing again as soon as he closed it. He sighed as he looked at Jeff and opened his phone. Chad was on the line this time. He kept saying over and over again how sorry he was for this and how they hadn't known they were being recorded. Skyler assured him that he understood that and that he wasn't angry at him or Justin. He promised to call him back when they landed in Paris the next day and then closed his phone again.

"Well it's all over the news worldwide," Jeff said. "Whether we want to be or not, we're out."

"You could deny it," said Jason quickly.

"No we can't, Squirt," Skyler said softly. "We can't say anything until we've talked to everyone mentioned on that tape."

"That means contacting JC," said Jeff, and Skyler winced.

"We're all in the same boat now, Jeff," he said. "There's no time for petty feuds now."

Clay and the others arrived shortly after that conversation. Clay was immediately trying to spin the story while Gavin tried to talk them both into just ignoring it for a while. Skyler finally told them both to shut up. They all sat down in the living room and Skyler looked from Clay's worried face to Gavin's determined one. The face that got to him was Dianne's. She was crying and shaking her head. She looked miserable, and he wanted to go to her but he stayed on the couch right next to Jeff.

"Issue no statements," he said finally. "Keep the press away from us, and for God's sake don't talk about this on camera. We're going to be contacting the others mentioned on the tape and we'll decide what to do after we've talked to them."

"But you can't come out," Gavin said quickly. "It will kill your career."

"Gavin, I understand that you're thinking of my career, and I thank you for that," he said. "But first I need to discuss this with my lover. We've talked about this in the past and made some decisions about what will happen after we're both out of the closet. That time has come so I want you both to keep the dancers from talking about it on camera. Inform James and Mara of my decision and get everyone ready to leave for Paris tomorrow morning."

"You're going to do the show?" Clay asked, looking more confused than Skyler had ever seen him in the time he'd known him.

"Of course I'm going to do the show," Skyler said quickly. "The tickets are in the hands of the fans. Everyone is expecting me to do the show. This doesn't change anything, Clay. Right now it's just out there. I haven't responded, and as far as I know none of the others have responded either."

He looked at Skyler for a long moment, assessing his mood and attitude. He'd watched him over the last few years and he'd grown to understand that Skyler Thomas was a force like no other he'd ever known. Sure this had wounded him on one level, but his dogged determination to do what he promised would keep him from folding. It was one of the reasons that Clay had wanted to work with him in the first place. He would do the show; in fact he would finish the tour. Of that there was no doubt. It was only a matter of how his staff handled the incoming storm. Clay would see to it that they handled it correctly. Nothing would touch Skyler or Jeff until they were ready for it or heads would roll.

"Then I'll head back to the dancers and issue their orders," said Clay. "We'll be ready in the morning. Shall we ride to the airport as a group? Show solidarity?"

"That's a good idea, actually," said Skyler. "I'll call you in the morning when we're ready to leave. I'll also give you a list of the hotels that I've reserved for the tour. I want you to call them all and cancel the reservations. I know we've booked entire hotels for the tour staff and dancers so it shouldn't be hard to house us in those hotels. It's time for me to rejoin my dancers and smile for the camera. The damage has been done, so now we'll just let the world see what it is that they want to see."

"What are you saying?" Jeff asked, stepping in front of Skyler. He looked worried and lost.

"I'm saying that we'll show them that we're no different than any other family in the world," Skyler said. "I'm not saying we'll put on a porn show for the cameras, Jeff. I'm just not so scared of what they'll catch us doing. We know what's proper and what isn't. We can do this."

Calls came in from Brian and Carlos shortly after Clay and Gavin left to carry out Skyler's orders. Skyler assured his friends that he wasn't going to reply to the tape until they'd all had a chance to sit down and talk. He told them that he would be in the US again by June eighteenth. They could set up a time for the entire group to get together and discuss what they would do and what they would say. Brian and Carlos both agreed and then Skyler called Lance and Justin to tell them the same thing. Lance informed him that he wanted to come out. He said that he'd been thinking about it for a long time. Skyler got him to agree to wait until they'd all had a chance to sit and talk it all out.

His father called to tell him he'd heard and ask how he was dealing. Skyler loved that his father didn't ask him what he was going to do. He just wanted to know how he was dealing with the fact that he'd been outed. He had a short conversation with him, telling him that he and Jeff were fine and then closed his phone again only to have it open a few seconds later when Tabitha called.

"Oh, Skyler," she said, and he could hear the tears in her voice. "Sweetie, I'm so sorry that this has happened."

"I'm all right, Mom," he said softly. "Jeff and the kids are all right. We're going to get through this. How are you doing?"

"Oh," she gasped. "Don't be so charming, young man. I know that your head is spinning right now, so don't you go and ask about how I'm doing when you're the one in turmoil."

"Come on, Mom," he said, smiling for the first time that day. "I've just told you that we're all fine, but when I left you in California you were not so fine. I'm simply asking my mother how she's doing."

"I'm doing just fine," she said after a moment. "You don't worry about me. I'm worried about you. That's the way it's supposed to be."

"Well you know in this family nothing is ever the way it's supposed to be, Mom," he said. "I'll always worry when you're upset. Know that."

"I love you," she said, and he could hear the thickness of her voice. "Kiss the children for me and hug Jeff. I pray the two of you have smooth sailing on this."

"Thank you, Mom," he said. "I love you, too. Jeff and the kids love you and I'll pass on your kisses and hugs."

So many calls came in that evening, and by the time he and Jeff got the kids down for the night and reassured Ashton that nothing was going to happen that would change his life in any way they were dog tired. They climbed into bed with matching sighs and for a long moment neither of them said a word. Skyler was still stunned that it had happened and he imagined that Jeff was cringing inside as well.

"You all right?" Jeff asked as he took Skyler's hand under the comforter.

"Surprisingly, yes," he said. "How about you?"

"I'm good," he said. "I expect a gazillion calls from my family and the guys tomorrow, but I'll deal."

"Oh, Jeff," Skyler said quickly. "I didn't think. I'm so sorry."

"You got nothing to be sorry about Blondie," Jeff said, moving in the bed and taking him into his arms. "This happened to us. Neither of us did it. We'll get through it and get everything back on track. You'll see."

"I have to sit down with Clay and Gavin to get things ready for me to go behind the scenes in the company," Skyler said softly, thinking of what he'd promised when they'd discussed coming out that last time.

"What are you talking about?" Jeff asked.

"Well I promised that when I was out of the closet I'd stop singing and making movies," he said slowly.

"No you don't," Jeff said, letting go of him and sitting up. He turned on his bedside lamp and looked Skyler full in the face. "We don't even know what this is going to do to either of our careers, Skyler. There are other successful gay men and women in Hollywood. Let's not jump the gun on this. You said we weren't doing anything until we'd met with the others on this. So don't go making rash decisions now."

"But we talked about this," Skyler said, sitting up to face his lover.

"Yes," said Jeff. "We talked about what would happen if we'd decided to come out and leave the business. We didn't decide to do this, Sky. It was done to us. Now let's neither of us jump the gun and start hiding because of it. Let's just see what happens. Personally I don't think your fans will give a shit about this. I've seen the way they are with you, and I'm telling you they won't turn on you so quickly. Give them some credit and stop worrying yourself into a corner. We're going to get through this. Our world is about to change, but let's not make any important changes to it ourselves until the dust settles."

Skyler stared at him in silence for a long moment. His mind was spinning with thoughts about this and so many other things that were supposed to happen because of this. At least they were supposed to happen when they decided to do this. There was one thing he knew he wouldn't take no for an answer on. They'd talked about it extensively and now they had their chance. Skyler wasn't going to let it slip by them. He wasn't going to wait until people were more comfortable with the news about them.

"All right," he said finally. "But there is one thing I want to do, and you can't say no because we didn't actually say that we would wait until we decided to come out to do it. We just said we would do it when we were out."

"What are you talking about?" Jeff asked.

"You have to marry me now," Skyler said simply.

"Oh you just try and stop me," Jeff said and then he was on him, kissing him and holding him, pushing him back against the headboard.

The next morning they were up and packed before they got the children up for breakfast. They would be leaving for Paris in a few hours and Skyler was a bit nervous about it. He had messages from Justin and Brian waiting for him, and he called them back while the kids were eating. Brian was a wreck, screaming into the phone about suing the hospital. Justin sounded more depressed than anything else. In the end Skyler got both of them to agree to meet with him and the rest of the people named on the tape before any of them talked to the press. Then he did what he was dreading and put in a call to JC.

"Josh it's Skyler," he said when JC answered his cell.

"What the hell do you want?" JC barked on the other end. "Call to rub it in?"

"No, Josh," sighed Skyler. "If you paid attention, I'm in the same situation as you are with this tape. I called to ask you to meet with me and the rest of the people mentioned on the tape to strategize."

"Fuck," sighed JC. "I'm sorry for snapping at you. It's been a rough few days. Does Chad know who it was that recorded the tape? Justin still won't talk to me."

"I haven't had a chance to talk to Chad about that," Skyler replied. "I have the legal department of Sky High looking into it, and I'm sure they've talked to Chad and Justin. I'm on tour right now so I'm not even in the states."

"I know where you are," JC said evenly. "I follow your schedule pretty closely. Don't worry I'm not stalking you or planning to show up and harass you. I just make it a point to know where everyone is lately."

"Well I'm scheduled to fly into Pennsylvania on the seventeenth of next month," he said, deciding to ignore the fact that JC was still keeping tabs on him. "I know that's a long way off, but if we can all just avoid speaking to the press about anything until we can all meet and discuss this it would be a good thing."

"Don't worry about me," JC said. "I wouldn't go near the press for anything."

"All right," sighed Skyler. "I'll contact you again when I'm in the states."

"Sure," JC said. "Sky, thanks for calling."

"Any time," replied Skyler, shocking himself when he realized he meant it.

He hung up the phone and sighed as he sat back against the back of the couch and looked up at Jeff. He was so tired of being angry at JC for the past, and he knew that enough time had passed. He just hoped that JC had grown up a little and could be civil at least. With all that was going on now there wasn't any room for mudslinging and hateful antics. They all had to get together and decide what to do. He was pretty sure he knew what he was going to do, but he would at least listen to what the others had to say. He was sure that JC was beside himself, even more than he'd let show on the phone. Justin and Brian were probably equally as upset, but he had to honor his commitment and get his job done.

"So you got through," Jeff said as he sat beside him. It wasn't a question, but more a resignation.

"Yeah," he sighed again. "He's upset, which is understandable."

"You're thinkin' about burying the hatchet with JC aren't you?" Jeff asked, turning his body so he could look at him.

"I'm thinking about it," he replied. "That doesn't mean it's actually gonna happen."

"Well you have time to think on that," Jeff said, taking his hand. "The cars are downstairs and all of your security is in the hall. It's time to go."

Skyler thought about it all the way to Paris. He wasn't happy to see the press when they got there, but he also wasn't surprised that they were there. He was a hot topic once again and they would do anything to get their quotes. His security surrounded him and they all took steps to shield the children from the photographers as they headed to the buses and then into the hotel. Skyler sighed once they were in their suite which had taken just a few extra minutes to set up because of the changed circumstances. Clay had cancelled all of the other hotel bookings but they hadn't prepared his suite before he arrived.

"What've you got for me?" he asked Clay as he, Gavin and Dianne came into the suite.

"All I have for you is the news that the single has been released," Clay said. "You already know what's going on outside I'm sure."

"The press is still out there?" he asked, wrinkling his brow.

"Of course," said Clay. "You didn't think they'd leave you alone over something as exciting as the tape did you?"

"I didn't expect them to be as rambunctious as the American press," he admitted.

"Face it, this is the hottest thing they've seen over here in a while," said Gavin. "Our phones are going crazy."

"Just remember to keep them away from us," Skyler warned. "I'm consenting to the cameras as a form of strategy, but I won't suffer the press."

"No worries," said Dianne. "We're not issuing any statements and sixteen more of your security staff are on their way here now from Orlando and New York."

"I got the kids to bed," said Jeff as he came back into the living room of the suite with Ashton behind him.

"Thanks," Skyler said, squeezing his hand as he sat beside him. He looked at Ashton's drooping eyes and laughed. "You look ready to fall over. Get some sleep, kiddo."

"I want to be awake for you," Ashton said, sitting on the arm of the sofa and leaning against him.

"Listen," Skyler said, kissing the top of his head. He was touched that the boy was worried about him. "You go on and sleep, and if I need you I'll come cuddle. All right?"

"Promise?" Ashton asked, looking at him.

"I promise," he said. "Hugs all around."

"I love you," Ashton said as he wrapped his arms around Skyler's neck.

"I love you, too," replied Skyler. "More than you know."

He hugged Jeff and whispered something in his ear, making him smile. Then he went from Dianne to Clay and finally to Gavin. They were all silent as they watched him walk out of the room. When the door to the children's room closed, Skyler sighed again. He really needed to try harder to not let any of this reach his children. He just didn't know how to shield Ashton from it. He was ten years old and very perceptive. It would take quite a bit to shield him from any of it.

"Well we don't have anything else for you," Clay said after a long pause. "Why don't we let you guys rest and we'll see you when you meet with the dancers in the morning?"

"Sounds good," replied Skyler, checking his watch. It was nearly six PM. He sighed as he realized that the children would be awake later than he wanted them to be.

"We'll wake them in a half hour," said Jeff as if he'd read Skyler's thoughts. "For now let's call room service and get a meal up here for them when we wake them up. You know the pack. If they're awake, they're hungry."

Skyler jumped in the shower while Jeff called room service. He was just coming out of the bathroom in his robe when Jeff was getting the children up. Skyler went to wake up Jason, Alex and Evan and then went to put on a pair of lounge pants and a sweatshirt. He chuckled when he noticed that all of the sweatshirts he had were tour shirts.

They had a quiet meal with none of them talking about the tape or the show. Skyler would be up at the crack of dawn for rehearsals, then he'd let the dancers have an hour or so off and then call them together again for a meeting. He'd decided to have Jeff and the kids present for that meeting and let the cameras roll. If the world wanted to know what their sexuality was he was damned sure going to make them see them as a family before they got their answer for sure.

Surprisingly the children went to bed that night on time and without a fight. He thought that the half hour sleep wasn't really enough to quell the fatigue they'd been suffering when they arrived. He knew that he was happy that they'd gone to bed on time though. He needed to get to bed so he'd be awake enough when rehearsals started.

"You guys should be heading to bed, too," he said. "James'll expect us all down there by five-thirty."

"Yeah, yeah," Jason said with a yawn. "I'm headed in that direction."

"Love you, Kid," said Skyler, rubbing the top of Jason's head as he passed them on his way to the bedroom.

Jeff was already in bed, reading the tour information book once again. Skyler took his clothes off and slid into the bed beside him as Jeff put the book on the nightstand and turned in the bed so he could kiss him. They knew there would be no love making that night. Skyler had an early wake up call coming and Jeff wanted to be with him all day. They kissed again and said their goodnights before snuggling together and drifting straight into sleep.

They were all up and downstairs with the cameras rolling while they went through the entire routine for James. When they broke for breakfast Skyler and Jeff stayed with the dancers instead of heading back upstairs. The cameras continued to roll, but they paid them very little attention. Then after a quick shower and change he spent the rest of the morning into the noon hours with the dancers playing games and having a great time. He even brought the children down and let the dancers play with them. All the while the cameras rolled and twice Skyler had either held Jeff's hand or put his head on his shoulder.

They had dinner with Bruce and Debbie that evening and still the cameras followed them and they didn't react. Skyler had a frank discussion with Bruce about his marriage and why it was ending, but they never discussed the tape or anything related to Skyler or Jeff's sexuality. The cameras followed him until he got in the SUV to ride over to arena. Jeff and Ashton rode with him.

That night the show was sold out and Skyler was both surprised and thrilled to see thousands of gay pride flags waving in the audience. It was clear that his French fans didn't give a damn if he was gay or not. He put on the best show he could for them and was dog tired by the time he got backstage after the finale. He took one look at Clay's face and his happiness was gone. Something had happened and he was sure he wasn't going to like it.

"What is it?" he asked as he sat down on the closest sofa.

"Sky, I got a call about fifteen minutes ago from Laura's sister in New York," Clay said, sitting beside him. The cameras were still rolling, but Skyler was past caring about them now. "Laura died in her sleep tonight."

"Oh, God," he sighed and leaned against Jeff who was standing beside the arm of the sofa with Ashton at his side. "Clay, when did she call?"

"You were in the middle of the finale," he said softly.

The dancers didn't know what was going on, but they knew something bad had happened. The room was crypt quiet. Skyler started to cry and covered his face with his hands. Then Clay wrapped his arms around him and they were both crying. He couldn't believe that Laura was gone. He felt guilty for not going to see her and not calling her more than he had. He knew he had to pay his respects though.

"Cancel the last two shows here," he said as he pulled away from Clay. "Have Debbie call the airport and have my jet ready. Any of the dancers who want to attend the funeral can come with us. We'll all fit comfortably on the jet."

Skyler cried in Jeff's arms for hours that night. Evan sat with the kids after telling Skyler how sorry he was to hear about Laura. He hadn't met her, but he knew that she had been important to Skyler. He was finally able to pull himself together enough to wash his face and kiss his children goodnight. When he crawled into bed beside Jeff that night he was asleep almost before his head touched the pillow.

James didn't hold dance rehearsals the next morning. He told Skyler later that they all had the day off as far as he was concerned in honor of Laura. Skyler stuck close with the dancers that had known Laura well and made all of his calls to the US to set things up for himself and his family. Tabitha was already on a plane to New York and Jase was with her. His dad couldn't get away from the show he was working on.

As he started the show that night he told the audience that one of his closest friends had died and asked them to light their lighters in her memory. He was fine through the beginning of the show but then the music for "Who's Cryin' Now" started and he began to cry. This had been one of Laura's favorite songs and he dedicated it to her just before he started to sing.

"It's been a mystery, and still they try to see why somethin' good can hurt so bad," he sang and had to stop so he could cover his face and cry. The music played on and he joined the band once again when he could actually sing.

"Caught on a one-way street, the taste of bittersweet. Love will survive somehow, someway.

"One love feed the fire. One heart burns desire. I wonder who's cryin' now. Two hearts born to run, who'll be the lonely one. I wonder who's cryin' now," he sang and then had to stop again because he couldn't stop crying. Fortunately the song had reached the interlude.

"So many stormy nights. So many wrong or rights. Neither could change their headstrong ways, and in a lover's rage, they tore another page. The fightin' is worth the love they save,

"One love feeds the fire. One heart burns desire. I wonder who's cryin' now. Two hearts born to run, who'll be the lonely one. I wonder who's cryin' now," he sang and then changed his voice slightly though it quivered with emotion already.

"Only so many tears you can cry 'til the heartache is over and now you can say your love will never die," he sang in a thick voice.

"One love feeds the fire. One heart burns desire. I wonder who's cryin' now. Two hearts born to run, who'll be the lonely one. I wonder who's cryin' now," he sang and let the band play again for a bit. When they stopped playing he sang, "I wonder who's cryin' now."

He didn't stay with the dancers backstage after the show. He showered quickly and changed clothes before following Jeff to the waiting SUV and headed back to the hotel. They were leaving for New York in the morning and he wanted to sleep. The kids were already in bed and Jason, Evan and Alex walked in the door just minutes after Skyler and Jeff. Skyler hugged each of the younger men before he went to his bedroom with Jeff and crawled into bed and into his lover's arms.

The next morning he made one final check to make sure everyone was packed before they rounded up the entire family and headed down to the SUV. There were five of them in front of the hotel and several of the dancers were getting into one or another of them. Skyler's security surrounded the entire group and they made their way to the airport.

The flight was spent with most of the passengers asleep. Skyler and Jeff talked quietly with Clay about memories of Laura. Skyler told Jeff about his first day in New York after being signed by Milton Drake and how Laura had decided to become his agent. They were laughing softly at some of her antics, but the mood remained somber.

Somehow the press was not aware that they had arrived in New York when they landed. Skyler's New York security met them there and they drove like an army of black SUVs to the hotel. Skyler called Laura's sister as soon as he was in the hotel and then was pleasantly surprised when Tabitha, Jase and Ali walked into his suite. Each hugged him and told him how sorry they were to hear about Laura. Afterward he sat on the sofa and watched the news in silence as the others talked quietly.

Two news stories caught his attention as he sat there. The first was about a prostitute in the city who had died on the steps of a church with her baby in her arms. The reporters said very little about the prostitute and instead talked about what was being done for her daughter. Skyler sighed as he watched. Then a story from further upstate about a boy named James Goodwin shooting up his classroom. He'd been apprehended and was facing life in prison for mass murder. It was all depressing news and Skyler turned off the television and pulled out his notebook. He started to write and was surprised to find that he was writing about the news stories he'd just seen. He made sure that the lyrics rhymed and then added this and that to them and sat the notebook aside. It wasn't finished but he couldn't think about it anymore. It made him feel guilty to think about writing a song when he should be grieving for Laura.

Three hours later he dressed in his black suit, which was bought for him by Debbie before he left Paris and the group headed to the funeral home to meet with Alice Sutter, Laura's sister who was in charge of the arrangements. This was to be the visitation and the funeral would be the next morning. He was happy to see that everyone who'd been mentioned on the tape was in New York and almost all of them were at the funeral home. He invited them back to the hotel after the visitation was over so that they could discuss what to say to the press. Calls were made to Lance, Justin and JC so that they could attend the little meeting as well.

They got their first unhappy shock when they left the funeral home. Skyler's security was thick enough to keep him, Jeff and their family away from the press, but the paparazzi had arrived in throngs. Questions were shouted at the others as they made their way through the throng to get to their cars. Skyler felt sorry for them and used his cell to call Carlos to get him and Brian coordinated inside his convoy. That took a few minutes, but it was effective. They left the funeral home in a large procession.

Thankfully there was no press around the hotel. At least there wasn't until they arrived with almost the entire throng behind them. They made their way inside the hotel as quickly as possible and found Lance, Justin and JC waiting in the lobby. JC looked tense, as always, but Lance and Justin smiled at him when they saw him.

"Where's Chad?" JC asked when they were safely inside Skyler and Jeff's suite of rooms.

"He's in LA," replied Skyler as he took his seat on the sofa beside Jeff. Lanna, the new nanny, kept the children in the other room while they chatted. "He and Justin have both said they had no idea they were being recorded. Chad's recovery is fresh, and I won't have anyone causing him any more stress than he's already under because of this. More stress could cause him to relapse."

"I'm not blaming him, Sky," JC said softly. "I just expected to see him here."

"Understood," Skyler said, nodding to JC. "Let's talk about the tape."

"I want to just come out completely," said Lance as soon as Skyler stopped talking. "I mean for all intents we're all already out because of the tape, but I want to acknowledge the tape and let everyone know that it's true, at least about me."

"That would mean me as well," said Carlos. "I've already decided on this, and I'm fine with coming out. I mean if it hurts my career I guess I'll get over it, but I'm tired of hiding and watching every little thing I do all the damned time. So I'm coming out."

"Brian?" Jeff asked, looking from Carlos to Brian, who was looking more pale than Skyler had ever seen him.

"Do I have a choice?" he asked, looking at Justin. "I mean if you come out, then I have to because they'll never believe me if I say I'm straight and you and Chad were mistaken."

"Do you feel comfortable now?" Justin asked. "I mean can any of us really take it back? I was on the tape and said that I had sex with Brian. There's no coming back from that. I'm out as far as I can see. Acknowledging it makes no difference."

"Then I guess I'm coming out," said Brian, putting his head down.

"What about you guys?" JC asked, nodding to Skyler and Jeff. "What are you two gonna do?"

"Well we've sort of already done it," Skyler said. "I mean the live stuff has already aired. We didn't do anything to announce our sexuality, but we didn't hide from the cameras in Paris, either. Bruce told me it was easy to see that Jeff and I are really a couple from what aired on MTV. So I guess we're coming out completely. I mean I haven't exactly discussed it with Jeff, but that's my decision."

"I agree," said Jeff. "It's too late for any of us to try to get out of this. We're out. If we deny it we'll look stupid and they won't believe us anyway. So what's the point in hiding?"

"Chad and Justin could say they knew they were being recorded and said it just to get attention," JC said, and Skyler wanted to punch him in the face.

"That's not going to happen," Justin said before anyone else could speak. "I wouldn't ask Chad to do that either. I've talked to him about this already. He won't lie to the press over it."

"Then I really have no choice in the matter," JC said. "You've all decided to destroy your careers, so I guess I'm going down with you no matter what I decide to do."

"Josh, don't think that way," Lance said. "You have to know that there's no going back now. It doesn't matter what we've decided. It's out there. There's no taking it back."

"Well I guess I need to hold a press conference," Skyler sighed. "I want to wait until after Laura's funeral though."

"Of course we'll all wait until after the funeral," Brian said softly. "I wouldn't disgrace her that way. She was never my agent, but she was always really great to me."

By the time everyone was ready to head back to their own hotels the mood was a little better. Skyler and Jeff were set to talk to Clay about getting the publicists to set up a press conference. Jeff called his own management to tell them what they'd planned and Skyler stood at the door to the suite with JC. It was awkward, but Skyler decided that there was no more room in his life for petty feuds.

"Josh, if you need to talk just call me," he said.

"Thanks, Sky," replied JC. "I'll talk to you soon."

He was closing the door behind JC when Jeff slammed the phone down and cursed. Skyler turned to face him and saw such anger in his lover's eyes that he kept silent. Whatever he'd heard on the other end of his telephone conversation obviously hadn't been what he wanted to hear. Skyler only hoped it wasn't about their decision. They really couldn't back out now.

"They've decided that 98 Degrees is over, and I've been dropped as a client," Jeff said after a long moment.

"So you'll just come to Sky High," Skyler said quickly. "I'm sorry that they did this to you, Jeff, but we both knew it was a possibility. You'll just come to Sky High and we'll work together."

After a tense pause Jeff nodded. He could just go solo and that could be done at Sky High. If the fans liked it that was great. If not then he could just follow Skyler around. He was sure that even if his own career was over Skyler's wouldn't be. After all out of all of them Skyler Thomas was the bigger celebrity. His fans were a force of nature and his fame was frightening. Jeff couldn't see it ending over something as trivial as his sexuality. Skyler wouldn't get out of the business that easily. He smiled as someone knocked on the door to the suite.

They stayed in the suite for the rest of the afternoon. Alice called just before dinner to thank Skyler for the flowers he'd sent to the funeral home and to thank him for coming. He assured her that he would do all he could to keep the press from mobbing the family after the funeral the next day and opted not to go to the graveside service to keep the press away from the cemetery.

They had just finished eating and were cleaning up the children when Skyler's phone beeped at him again. He looked at the number and sighed. Adam Winslow was calling, and he had no idea what the man could want. He excused himself and left the bathroom to take the call.

"Skyler, it's Adam," said Adam's voice on the other end of the connection. "I'm so sorry about your agent. If I can do anything please let me know."

"Thank you, Adam," Skyler replied. "There's really nothing anyone can do, but I appreciate your offer."

"I'm actually calling about Ashton," said Adam. "Skyler, Aiden Sharp is interested in coaching Ashton. He's convinced he can have him ready for regionals this year. It's a great opportunity for Ashton if he really wants to be a part of the sport."

"Aiden Sharp?" Skyler asked. He'd never heard of the man.

"He's one of the best coaches in the business, Skyler," Adam explained. "He was coaching Victor Eldrid until he retired. He just signed on with Sky High and we got to talking about Ashton and he said that it sounded like exactly what he was looking for. He wants to coach a skater from youth to adulthood. Skyler, this is Ashton's shot."

"But the tour isn't over," Skyler said after a moment. "We've got quite a ways to go, Adam."

"I know that, and I'm sorry to spring this on you now," Adam replied. "But Aiden is calling me every day."

"He'd want to train Ashton in Los Angeles?" asked Skyler as his mind worked on how to do this for Ashton.

"Yes," Adam replied. "He can stay with me if you'd like. You could give me temporary guardianship or something."

"Actually my mother could help out here," Skyler said, forming the plan in his mind. Of course he'd have to talk to Ashton about it, but if Tabitha agreed then she could take Ashton back to Los Angeles when she left after the funeral. He'd miss his son, but if Ashton really wanted to be a skater and this was his shot he knew he couldn't stand in the boy's way. "Let me talk to Ashton and my mother and call you back."

"Sure," he said. "Again, I'm so sorry to spring this on you now."

"Oh, don't worry about that," Skyler said quickly. "This is good news. I needed some good news today."

"Well then I'm glad I could provide," chuckled Adam.

"All right then," he said. "I'll call you back as soon as I've talked this over with the family."

"Sure thing," said Adam. "Bye, Skyler."

He went back to the living room of the suite and asked Jeff to talk to him in private. He explained to him everything that Adam had said about Aiden Sharp wanting to coach Ashton and how the man thought he could have Ashton ready to compete by October and then asked him if he was all right with having Tabitha keep Ashton so he could train while they were on tour.

"Well I think it's a good idea for Ashton," Jeff said when Skyler had explained everything. "I'll miss him like crazy, but Sky, why are you asking me?"

"Because you're his father, too, Jeff," he said. "Maybe not legally, but it takes more than a piece of paper signed by a judge to make you a father. Besides this is a partnership. We're a family. I would never make a decision like this about any of the kids without you."

"I love you for seeing that I feel like I'm just as much Ashton and Preston's father as you are," Jeff said. "Thank you for discussing this with me first. I think that we should ask Ashton what he wants to do. I'm all for it if this is what he wants. I don't want to push him into anything. Like I said I'll miss him like crazy. I'm sure his brothers and sister will miss him as well."

"Then let's go talk to my mother," Skyler said, taking Jeff's hand.

Tabitha listened to everything he had to say and then smiled at them. She informed them that it would do her a world of good to have one of her grandchildren in the house. Skyler felt better about it after that. The three of them went to talk with Ashton in private. He looked nervous, as if he thought he was in trouble. Skyler didn't like that.

"First of all you aren't in trouble," Jeff said when they sat down. "We just have something to discuss with you."

"All right," said the boy, sitting down on the sofa across from them.

"Ash, Adam called earlier and told me that a pro coach wants to train you," Skyler said. "This coach, Aiden Sharp thinks he can have you ready for regionals in October."

"Of this year?" Ashton asked quickly.

"Yes," replied Skyler. "What we want to know is if you want to return to Los Angeles to train with Aiden."

"Are you guys coming with me?" he asked.

"No, buddy," said Jeff. "Your father has to finish the tour and I have to go with him, but you'll be with your grandma while we're on tour."

"I promise to come and get you as soon as the tour is over," Skyler said quickly.

"Are the other kids coming with me?" he asked.

"No," said Jeff. "They have to stay with us. But you'll have your uncles and your cousin around to keep you company."

"When would I have to leave?" he asked, looking thoughtful.

"Tomorrow," said Tabitha. "We'd leave right after the funeral."

"What do you want me to do, Dad?" he asked, looking at Skyler.

"Ash, I want you do whatever it is that you want to do," Skyler replied. "This is your dream. Aiden will give you a shot at achieving it. I won't stop you from going after your dream. I'll miss you like crazy, but I'll call you as often as I can and we'll come back for you as soon as the tour is over."

"Absolutely," said Jeff as soon as Skyler stopped talking. "We love you, Ash, and we want you to be happy and follow your dreams."

Ashton got up and hugged both of them before he thanked his grandmother for allowing him to stay with her. Then he hugged her, too. Skyler took him to his room to help him pack while Jeff told the other three children that their brother was going on a trip and wouldn't be with them for the rest of the tour. As soon as Ashton's bags were packed Skyler called Adam back and told him that Ashton would be on a plane headed for Los Angeles the next afternoon. Then he let Ashton talk to Adam for a bit.

"So when are regionals?" Jeff asked after they'd gotten the children to bed and crawled into their own bed beside each other.

"October," Skyler replied. "We'll be home way before then."

"It's gonna be hard to watch him get on that plane tomorrow," Jeff said.

"Tell me about it," sighed Skyler. "We have to face the facts though. Our children may want to act or sing. That'll take them away from us from time to time too. Ashton is the oldest, so naturally he'd be first. We'd just better get used to the idea that we can be their fathers but we can't keep them with us constantly."

They stuck close to Ashton the next morning until it was time to go to the funeral. Ashton stayed in the hotel with his siblings while his fathers and the rest of his family headed off in the SUVs to the funeral home. Skyler was happy to see that policemen and several of the security staff at Sky High New York were keeping the press back from the mourners as they entered the parking lot in their vehicles. He sighed with relief when they were finally inside the massive white building.

It had once been a Victorian mansion, he was told. The siding was white clapboard and the roof was dark slate. The front of the building was taken up by the porch that extended from the end of the house to what looked like a tower that stood higher than the three floors of the actual house. Inside there were golden carpets and lace fabric on the walls. The four parlors on the ground floor had folding doors, and each of the rooms opened into the one in front of it so that with all of the folding doors opened they formed one massive room that extended from the front of the building almost to the very back. The folding doors were all open and several people were already seated in the white chairs that were in rows six feet from the alcove where the coffin sat on its platform.

The entire room was filled with the scent of honeysuckle and freesia. There were red and yellow roses all over the room as well. Laura's favorite flower was the yellow rose, and Skyler had sent four dozen in a bouquet that had a shower of baby's breath and white freesia surrounding the massive center where the yellow roses seemed to blossom out of the coffin underneath them. The coffin was surrounded by plants of various types, some with flowering buds and some without. Alice stood at the end of the coffin, greeting the mourners who walked around the front of the room to take a look at the coffin before the ceremony. She hugged Skyler and then Jeff.

"Thank you both for coming," she said. "You were both so important to Laura. She talked of almost no one else."

"We loved her very much," Skyler said softly. "I'm sorry I couldn't get here more often to see her."

"Oh, don't feel sorry," Alice said, touching his hand. "Just know that she loved you, and she knew that you loved her, too."

He hugged her and then took his seat with Jeff beside Tabitha. Jase sat on her other side, and Clay came to sit on the other side of Jeff. The service was beautiful, and Skyler was pleased that they didn't ask anyone to speak. When the service ended he joined the line to say a final goodbye to Laura. He thought of his first meeting with her and how scared he'd been. Then he thought of arriving in New York and her waiting for him at the airport, showing him his new apartment and taking him to photo shoots that had offended him at the time. He nearly chuckled at the thought of the naive, scared young man he'd been. Could it really have been only five years? He couldn't believe it. He just knew that it hadn't been long enough. Laura had been like a mother to him and she was always on his side no matter what he was doing. As he stepped up to the coffin for his final goodbye he thought about how much he would miss her and lost his battle with the tears he'd been holding back.

"Oh, Laura," he said softly, placing his hand over her folded ones. "I'm going to miss you so much. I love you."

"Who's Cryin' Now" is a song by Journey.
The next chapter will be posted soon.

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