© 2005-2015 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved


Chapter 103


Skyler was happy when the show left Pennsylvania but afraid that New York would be no different. He was pleasantly surprised to find none of the bigots waiting for him in New York. There were throngs of fans waiting as well as the press. He accepted them happily as he got off the bus and stood to sign autographs and answer questions, posing for pictures. Then he and his family were taken to his apartment for the night. They had two days before the first show and Skyler meant to rest for the first one.

He spent the day in the apartment, trading calls with Ashton. The boy was looking forward to joining his family in Washington DC and promised to show him his skating when he got there. His coach had assured him that he could arrange it and that there was an ice rink in the city. Skyler was looking forward to that very much. He let the boy talk to Jeff while he got Preston ready for dinner.

"So he's not going to Regionals?" Jeff asked when Skyler told him what Ashton's coach had told him.

"No," said Skyler. "He's too young. He's going straight to the championships but at the Novice Level."

"What does that mean?" Jeff asked.

"Well it means that all his hard work on triple jumps was for nothing," replied Skyler. "They're not allowed in the Novice events. He can only do singles and doubles. There's a lot more to it, but I don't know it all. We'll see him soon and we'll get answers then. It doesn't matter though. We're going to the event no matter what's going on."

"Damned right we are," laughed Jeff. "What about qualifying events?"

"As far as I know Novices have no qualifying events," Skyler said. "If they do I wasn't told about them."

"So what else did he say?" Jeff asked.

"Well Aiden said that he's creating a buzz about Ashton and to expect to see him on television soon," he said. "That's as much as I know other than the fact that he's entering the novice competition that really means nothing. He's entering him into that competition to let all of them see that he's going to be one that could be the winner of the nationals."

It began the next morning. When Dianne, Clay and Matt arrived, Skyler got his first look at the US Figure Skating Magazine and Ashton was on the cover. The caption read, "Ashton Thomas, Little Flying Ice Man." They read the article and looked at all of the pictures. Skyler smiled as he read about how shocked the reporter had been at Ashton's speed. There was mention of the fact that though he landed triple jumps with ease they were not allowed at his level. They passed the magazine around and talked excitedly about what Ashton was doing.

Later that day as Skyler was getting ready for the first meet 'n greet in New York they watched a Figure Skating Special on television. There was a live interview with Aiden Sharp about his new skater which was Ashton. Then Skyler saw his son being coached on this move or that move. Aiden talked about the US Figure Skating Association's decision to not let Ashton compete at the Junior Level even though he was as good as most of the Junior Level skaters. It seemed that Aiden was going to play that up to the hilt.

He talked to Ashton before the show and laughed with his son about the fact that he was currently sitting at the dining room table at Tabitha's with ice packs taped to his hips. Skyler was a little upset about the bruises his son described from falling, but Ashton assured him that he was having fun and didn't want to quit. He was gearing up for his first competition. Skyler was upset that he couldn't be there for it, but Ashton assured him that it wasn't a big deal and his presence would turn it into more of a spectacle than he wanted.

At the meet 'n greet several fans talked about Ashton. It seemed they were keeping up on what his son was doing just as much as he was. He liked that and assured them all that Ashton was having fun and he was very proud of the boy. He gave them pictures of the entire family together and got Jeff in the room to sign them along with him. By the time the event was over they were both laughing about the fact that Ashton had nearly upstaged Skyler at his own meet 'n greet.

During the last minute dance rehearsal Skyler saw that each of the dancers had purchased copies of the magazine, and they were all talking about the television special. Skyler laughed when James had to bark at them three different times to stop talking during the routine. Then he was standing on the stage for sound check, watching a handful of his dancers sit in the front two rows with copies of the magazine in their hands. He was actually touched by their excitement. It seemed that Ashton was just as much their little guy as he was his. It warmed his heart to know that his son was so loved among his staff.

This continued throughout their time in New York. Ashton wasn't on television again, but they did talk about him on several different sports networks. Skyler had fun answering questions about him and telling the audience about his son's figure skating, dedicating songs to him and generally talking the boy up. Then they reached New Jersey on the second of July and all of his happiness was over.

What they thought were just fans in the parking lot of the hotel turned out to be fans and Christian protesters. Skyler and his family were trapped on the bus for over three hours while his security and local police got the groups away from the bus enough for them to get inside the hotel. He was tired and tense as he carried Preston inside a tight circle of his security as they made their way from the bus to the hotel. He hated the protesters for saying evil things about him in front of his children.

The next morning he was able to voice his anger during a live radio interview. He told the disc jockey about the protesters and what they'd been saying while he'd tried to shield his children from them. The disc jockey seemed outraged, and fans called in to voice their own outrage over what was happening. Skyler was happy about their reaction, but he was afraid of what would happen at the show.

Just like he feared the number of protesters grew. Outside the arena the night of the show they tried to prevent ticket holders from entering. Skyler was furious when Clay and Matt came to tell him that they were delaying the start of the show while this was sorted out. Skyler stood in his costume for the beginning of the show, talking with the dancers.

"You mean they're not letting the fans inside?" Yin asked as they stood there.

"From the way it sounded they were trying not to let anyone in or out of the arena," Skyler explained.

"But they can't get away with that," said Marcel.

"No they can't," said Skyler. "Clay is calling the police. They should be here any time."

"This is getting stupid," said Dale. "So you're gay. Big deal. There are so many other things going on in the world that should have the Christians up in arms, but they're choosing to use you as their platform for this bigotry."

"Well my radio interview didn't do anything to help the situation," said Skyler. "I suppose a lot of them were listening when fans called the station to bad mouth the protesters."

"I heard the show," said Jason. "I liked that some of them used bible verses to show that what these so-called Christians are doing is wrong. I agree that it didn't help, but I enjoyed the show anyway."

They came to tell him that the arena was filling up an hour after the show was supposed to have started. He was angry to learn that quite a few fans had simply walked back to their cars and left the area. He hated these protesters for what they were doing. He told the audience exactly how he felt about them during the show. He told them that they were screaming things at him when he had his children with him and the audience began to cry out in boos.

"I'm only here for one night," he told them. "And they've caused a lot of fans to leave the area without seeing the show they paid for. That makes me mad."

Clay cautioned him about what he'd said and asked him not to rile the audience up again as they boarded the bus amidst the sea of protesters and fans to head off to Boston. He said that if he kept agitating the situation things could get ugly. However he didn't have to agitate anything as it turned out. When they reached Boston there was no one in the parking lot. They made their way into the hotel and then watched the news on television. The arena had filed restraining orders against four churches in Boston, and the fans that were being interviewed actually threatened violence if the protesters showed up. Clay was right though. It was getting way out of hand.

"Several people have called for interviews," Matt told them as they sat in the suite.

"Who, specifically?" he asked, though they all knew that he would end up turning down probably all of them by the end of the conversation.

Skyler hated interviews now more than ever before and they all knew it. It wasn't that he wanted to protect his privacy. There was no protecting any part of his private life anymore. It was more about the safety of his dancers, his family and especially his children. Every interview that Skyler consented to give sparked another bout of dangerous attempts to photograph him, his family and his children. He refused to go through any of that again if he could stop it. Not giving interviews was one way he could try to stop it.

His new acting agent had been told about what it was like to work with Skyler, but he'd had no idea just how vicious the paparazzi could be. Sure he knew that they'd run his SUV off the road and nearly killed him. He knew about the mob scene at the hospital when he'd tried to take his new son home for the first time. He saw the mob of screaming reporters at every stop on the tour since he'd arrived. Everyone connected to Sky High Entertainment talked about how ridiculously out of hand the paparazzi had gotten where Skyler was concerned. They talked about the law suits filed by Skyler and Jeff in the name of their children all the time as well. Now he was getting into the thick of it, and he was afraid of what he saw most of the time.

He had experience. There was no problem there. He'd worked with three very high profile clients before he'd been signed on at Sky High. He knew about the paparazzi and all of the shady and underhanded levels they'd stoop to just to get the perfect shot which most of the time was taken completely out of context and inflamed to be something it wasn't. The fact was that those three clients from his past agency hadn't prepared him one little bit. Another fact that was, along with Skyler there were two other celebrities with as high a profile. Madonna was one, and Michael Jackson was the other.

Skyler was linked to Madonna in the press quite frequently. Matt hadn't known until very recently that their friendship was genuine and not just created by paparazzi. What it meant was that when Skyler and Madonna were around each other the mobs of fans, press and curious watchers would double. Skyler could fill a stadium with fans who just wanted to look at him and Madonna could fill two of them, so with all of that around Matt was extremely nervous.

Now there were calls coming in to Clay and his staff from Michael Jackson's people. Matt wondered if Skyler and Michael were friends at first but the paparazzi had never said anything about the pair of them. He wasn't sure what was happening, but he was afraid that Skyler was about to make himself even more popular. He knew he'd get used to all of this, but did he want to? That was the question because though none of this was directed at him it was still dangerous to be near his client when it was happening. The money was phenomenal. So far that was enough to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground next to Skyler's.

Of course there was more than just the money. There was the fact that though he never expected that he'd actually like the guy he really did. His fame hadn't gone completely to his head like so many other celebrities. Sure it had changed him he was sure. Fame changes everyone in one way or another, but Skyler was a good father, a great partner and everyone on his staff genuinely seemed to love him. It was awesome to work in an environment like that one. The paparazzi and fan mobs aside there was no other set up like Skyler's. That was the biggest part of why he thought he'd found his place. He'd stick with Skyler as long as the guy continued to be who he was.

"Two reporters from celebrity news shows on television, several different magazines, Oprah and of course Jay Leno," said Matt.

"Well I can't very well stop the show to sit with Jay," said Skyler. "Oprah is a possibility, but not until after the tour is over and I won't even talk to a celebrity gossip show reporter."

"So no interviews," Matt said as he wrote it down in his organizer.

They made it through rehearsals and sound checks with no problems, and Skyler was very happy to find everyone waiting for him when he sat down to do the meet 'n greet. He signed autographs, posed for pictures and gave hugs, kisses and handshakes for two hours. Then he was off to get ready for his first show in Boston.

He stood with Jeff while Brody's show wound to a close. He'd paid very little attention to the crowd while Brody was out there. Jeff kept a tight hold on his hand while they waited. He knew that Skyler was nervous about the crowd. He understood why as well. He just wished that everyone would just get over this and move on. He knew it wouldn't be that easy for them though.

"They're pumped," Brody said when he came bounding off the stage. "Did you see the pride flags out there tonight? I mean it was great in Paris and London but there were so many tonight! It was a sea of rainbows out there."

Skyler got to see for himself when he got out there. Through his entire show they waved those gay pride flags over their heads. He smiled at that and tried to give them the best show he could. He was smiling when he came off the stage into Jeff's arms. It had been a great show and he was happy for that. Jeff held him tight for a moment before he let him go again so that he could return to the stage for the first of four encores.

That night Skyler spent quite a bit of time in the green room after the show. He and Brody posed for pictures with several backstage pass holders, signed autographs and talked with fans. By the time they both agreed to head back to the hotel Jeff was dead on his feet. He thought about how different Skyler's shows were from the shows he'd performed with 98 Degrees. The frenzy was nearly life threatening compared to the shows he'd performed. Skyler's fans were a force to be reckoned with. He thought about that as he took his seat beside Skyler in the rented SUV. As they joined the security convoy and headed off toward the hotel Jeff thought again about how very different their fame had always been.

He wondered how vastly different his own life would have been if he had been the one to have Skyler's type of fame. Would he have been as able to handle it as Skyler was? Jeff had never been one to kid himself into thinking that he was in any way the rock that Skyler leaned on. Skyler Thomas needed no rock. He was a different kind of human being than most. Sure he loved Jeff. He knew that but though Jeff and the kids were some of the most important parts of his life he knew without a doubt that Skyler would survive without any of them. It was a hard realization to accept but he was a big boy and no stranger to this kind of thing.

The fame that Skyler had could consume him at any moment. Jeff had to wonder about what it would be like to be on the receiving end of it. Then he realized that he didn't want to know what that was like. He didn't want to be the one at the head of such a dangerous career. He almost laughed out loud at that thought. They were singers and actors and dancers. That wasn't supposed to be a dangerous career. For Skyler it was far more than dangerous. It was frightening at times. No, he decided, he would never have wanted that kind of fame.

"You've been awful quiet, Blue Eyes," Skyler said when the convoy arrived at the hotel.

"Just thinking," he said, smiling at him. Skyler leaned over and kissed him.

"Let's go in and get to bed," Skyler said as Brent opened his door.

When they got to their room they stripped down and went straight to bed. Skyler cuddled with him but Jeff was in no mood for sex. All of the protesting and clamoring of the press had made him think hard about the lives they led. He wasn't ready to discuss it with Skyler yet but he was definitely thinking about it. He knew that he'd have to talk to Skyler about what he was thinking soon. He couldn't keep it to himself.

He had nightmares when he finally got to sleep. Each were filled with the press doing dangerous things to get pictures. In one Skyler was killed by yet another photographer. In another they lost one of the children in some stupid attempt to get pictures. In another they were both nearly killed by reporters tipping over their SUV. He woke from each shivering and afraid. He clutched Skyler tighter after the dream about his death. The third time he'd woken up he decided that sleep was impossible. He extricated himself from Skyler as carefully as he could and made his way into the living room of the suite. There he found Jason and Alex sitting at the table with glasses of milk in front of them.

"What are you guys doing up?" he asked, looking at the clock and seeing that it was nearly five in the morning.

"We haven't slept yet," replied Jason. "Alex and I have been talking about the press and the protesters."

"Well that's enough to give you nightmares," Jeff said with a sigh as he sat down at the table across from Alex. "It sure gave me some doozies."

"Yeah," said Alex. "I don't understand how Skyler can do this with all of that going on. I'm in awe of how he gets out there in spite of all of this."

"Sometimes I think he should just walk away from it all and hide from the press," Jeff admitted. "I know that's not likely to happen right now. He seems to be more popular than ever since the tape was leaked."

"I've been talking to him about finding one reporter that he can do interviews with from time to time," Jason said. "Someone with integrity and who isn't crazed like the others."

"Does a reporter like that exist?" Jeff asked. He was starting to believe that all of them were dangerous.

"There has to be someone out there that fits that criteria," Jason said. "I refuse to believe that all of them are this stupid and crazy."

"Do you think it would do any good to find one reporter to talk to?" Alex asked. "I mean do you think it would stop the others?"

"I don't know that it would stop the others completely," Jason admitted. "It might calm them down some though. Anything would be better than what happened at the hospital when Skyler was trying to bring Ashton home."

"I agree," said Jeff. "If we could just find a reporter from the legit press that isn't from music television it might calm them all down."

"Well then help me convince Sky," said Jason. "Because if he doesn't do something soon someone is going to get seriously hurt again."

The boys went to bed after that. Jeff sat there thinking about what Jason had said. Could they find a reporter that wasn't psychotic? He didn't want anything to happen to Skyler or the children because of the stupid press and their crazed attempts to photograph him or them. He hoped there was someone out there that could be trusted to be professional and help to calm the craziness.

He talked to Skyler about it later that day while they were riding to the venue for sound checks. Skyler told him that he'd talked about this very thing with Jason a few times and he was thinking it over. It was clear to Jeff that Skyler didn't believe there was a professional journalist that could be trusted. Jeff thought about that while Skyler was on stage that night.

The show went off without a hitch and then they were on the bus and headed for Washington DC where they would reconnect with their son. Jeff just hoped that there were no protesters waiting for them in DC. He didn't think he could take it with Ashton there to see the spectacle.

It was quiet in DC when they arrived at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel. They filed off the buses and headed straight into the lobby to be checked in and get their rooms. Of course Bruce and the construction crew went straight to the MCI Center to start working on setting up the sets. Skyler and Jeff took the kids and went upstairs to their suite and put them to bed. Then they went to bed themselves. Jeff was worried that his nightmares would return but he was too exhausted to fight off sleep.

The next morning they left the children with Helen and headed over to the sports arena to reconnect with Ashton and Tabitha. Jason and Alex went with them. Skyler didn't bother to wake Evan because the young man didn't even know Ashton. When they got there Ashton was already on the ice with Aiden and his assistant. Tabitha was sitting in the stands. Skyler hugged her and then let Jason have his time with her as they all sat down to watch Ashton skate. He waved at them but Aiden quickly told him to focus.

As they watched Ashton skated faster and faster around the ice until Aiden barked a "now!" and then the boy bent his knees, lifted one leg and grasped it with both hands and began to spin faster and faster until Aiden barked another "now!". Then Ashton stood up again and continued to spin until Aiden called out again. Then the boy took off again, backward this time gaining more and more speed before he launched himself into the air and spun three and half times before landing on one foot.

"Perfect!" cried Aiden. "Gretchen, cue the music!"

When Ashton heard this he went to center ice and stopped. He put his head down and his arms straight out from his body and waited. When the music began he spun around and took off. Skyler smiled when he heard the instrumental version of his "Let Me Fall" playing. He watched as Ashton moved his body in time with the music, doing what looked like very complicated foot work. Then he went into one of those spins, spinning faster and faster before coming out of it only to crouch down into a sit spin and doing it all over again. When he came out of that one he went back to his foot work, moving his body to the music. Then he took off, skating faster and faster before he scraped the toe pick of one skate and launched into the air. He spun twice and landed on one foot for only a second before he launched himself into the air again and spun two and half times, coming down on one foot. Then again he did another two rotation jump and then went into a figure eight on the edges of his blades, leaning backward.

Skyler watched the entire routine in awe of this amazing boy and his talent. When the song ended, Ashton was on his knees sliding along the ice until he turned sideways and put his arms out behind him and stopped as the music stopped. Then they were all on their feet, cheering for him. Aiden finally told him to hit the showers after that.

"That means they're done for the day," Tabitha said as she moved to leave the stands. "I've seen him practice that routine five times and I think he gets better every time."

"Is that what he'll be doing for the competition?" Jeff asked as they made their way to the bottom of the stands.

"That's it," she said, beaming at them. "Aiden says he's perfect. He expects him to win."

"The competition is the day after his birthday, right?" Skyler asked.

"Yes," she said. "I'm so sorry that you can't be here for it."

"We have to fly to Florida that morning," he said sadly. "I'm just glad I got to see the routine."

"Skyler, it's good to see you," said Aiden Sharp as he came to stand before the group. "What did you think of the routine?"

"I thought it was beautiful," he said, shaking Aiden's hand. "He was amazing."

"He's worked very hard," Aiden said. "I believe he'll win with this routine."

"I loved that he was using my music," Skyler said.

"He insisted," said Aiden with a smile. "It's a beautiful song."

"Thank you," Skyler replied.

"Thank you for the tickets to tomorrow night's show," Aiden said. "Ashton has the next three days off to spend time with his family."

"Will you be coming to the party?" Skyler asked as they made their way to stand outside the locker room.

"Of course," he said, smiling. "Ashton told me he'd never forgive me if I wasn't there."

"Dad!" cried Ashton as he came running out of the locker room. He launched himself into Skyler's arms and held on tight.

"Hey there my missing boy," Skyler said, holding him tight. "I missed you like crazy."

"I missed you too," Ashton said just before letting go of him. Skyler sat him down and smiled as Jeff lifted him up again for another tight embrace.

"God I've missed you, Runt," Jeff said as he held him. "You got taller I think."

"I missed you, too," he said. "Aiden says I'm growing. He had to buy me another workout suit."

"Well it's bound to happen at least every now and then," laughed Jeff.

"Try every day," Aiden said with a grin. "The boy grows an inch an hour, I swear."

"Where are the others?" Ashton asked as Jeff put him back on his feet. He looked from Jeff to Skyler and back.

"Your brothers and sister are at the hotel with Helen," Skyler said. "We wanted to spend some time with you and Grandma."

He gave hugs to both of his uncles and talked to them a mile a minute as well, asking about the dance moves and the tour itself. Ashton knew that his fathers wouldn't tell him what he wanted to know. Jason and Alex told him all he wanted to know. He smiled really big when they told him that all of the dancers were rooting for him and all had a copy of the magazine with his picture on the cover.

They shook hands with Aiden and wished him a happy few days off before they took their son and followed Tabitha back out of the building to the waiting SUV parade. Ashton talked a mile a minute about learning new jumps and spins. He gave them technical names for this and that and both Skyler and Jeff smiled when he did it. They didn't know what he was talking about. They were just so happy to have him with them again.

"Have you heard from Dad?" Skyler asked as their SUV pulled out into the procession.

"He calls every night," she said. "He asks about you a lot."

"I haven't had a chance to call him," Skyler replied. "Things have been tense on the tour lately."

"Yeah, since we returned to the states," Jeff said with a sigh. "It seems that some religious groups think we shouldn't be entertaining anyone."

"Bigots," Tabitha said. "Don't pay them any attention."

"It's kind of hard when they're preventing fans from entering the arenas," Skyler said darkly.

Tabitha didn't know why but she had a very bad feeling about these religious protesters. She wasn't ready to voice her concern yet, but she was worried. Skyler was always at the center of something that threatened to sweep him away from them. She thought that perhaps that was why she had the feeling she had about this. She was expecting something to happen. She told herself that she had to stop that. Inviting trouble was never good. Instead she decided on another track.

"Have you been writing?" she asked, knowing that his would be a conversation starter.

"I sure have," Skyler said, smiling. "I've written five songs for a new album. One I took from a bunch of headlines from around the time that Laura died. They stuck in my head. These are some great songs. I don't know about singles or anything, but I know I'll have a great album when it's all done."

"Anything I can hear?" she asked as they pulled into the hotel parking lot.

"Sure," he said. "When I get the kids taken care of I'll find the band and get everyone together in the banquet room and sing a few for you."

"I love to hear you sing," she said, smiling.

It was that very fact that stopped her from trying to get him to walk away from all of this. She loved to hear him sing so much that she felt guilty about not trying to get him to leave it all behind for a safer, quiet life with Jeff and the kids. She and Ben talked about it a lot, or they had before he'd admitted to his affair. The smile slipped from her face as she thought about that. Yes, she thought, she couldn't wait to hear Skyler sing so she could take her mind off of what was hurting her.

It was a little bit before he could get the band together. He had to find them first. Before that he stopped to watch Ashton's reunion with his brothers and sister. He was aware that the cameras were rolling and ordinarily he'd have told them to bug off but they were playing family for them now so he didn't. He thought briefly about telling them not to film the songs he was about to sing but then decided that it didn't really matter. It was only a preview of the new album. If Clay didn't want it on the show they could always edit it out.

He got the band together and told them they'd be doing three songs. He was always glad that they kept spare instruments with them. Sure the drums were electronic but it would suffice for what he wanted to do. Helen got the kids all settled so they could watch as well. Then Jeff, Jason and Alex alerted the dancers that Skyler was going to sing. They filed into the room and took seats at the table and Skyler had to wait while each of them said their excited hellos to Ashton and commented on his skating. Then he smiled at Tabitha and picked up his microphone, switching it on as everyone got quiet and turned to watch.

"My heart's a stereo," he sang without music. "It beats for you so listen close."

"Yeah!" cried Jason, smiling at Skyler.

"Hear my thoughts in every note oh - oh," he sang. "Make me your radio and turn me up when you feel low."

"Turn it up a little bit," Jason said into his mic with a smile. The band began to play and the kids all clapped their hands.

"This melody was meant for you," sang Skyler, smiling at the kids. "So sing along to my stereo!

"If I was just another dusty record on a shelf, would you blow me off and play me like everybody else?" he asked, talking loudly and quickly over the music. "If I asked you to scratch my back could you manage that?"

"Like it read, well check it, Skyler, I can handle that," answered Jason.

"I apologize for any skippin' tracks," Skyler said. "It's just the last one who played me left a couple cracks.

"I used to used to now I'm over that 'cause holding grudges over love is ancient artifact."

"If I could only find a note to make you understand," he sang with Jason. "I'd sing it softly in your ear and grab you by the hand to keep me stuck inside your head just like your favorite tune!"

"My heart's a stereo," he sang alone. "It beats for you so listen close. Hear my thoughts in every note oh - oh! Make me your radio and turn me up when you feel low. This melody was meant for you, so sing along to my stereo!"

"If I was an old school fifty pound boom box," he said quickly and loudly over the music. "Would you hold me on your shoulder wherever you walk? Would you turn my volume up in front of the cops? And crank it higher every time they told you to stop? All I ask is that you don't get mad at me when you have purchase mad D batteries. Appreciate every mix take your friends make. You never know we come and go like on the interstate. I think I finally found a note to make you understand. If I can hit it sing along and take me by the hand to keep me stuck inside your head like your favorite tune, and know my heart's a stereo that only plays for you!"

"My heart's a stereo," he sang. "It beats for you so listen close. Hear my thoughts in every note oh - oh! Turn me up when you feel low. This melody was meant for you, so sing along to my stereo!"

"I only pray you'll never leave me behind," he sang higher as the music changed tempo.

"Never leave me," answered Jason.

"Because good music can be so hard to find," he sang.

"So hard to find," answered Jason.

"I'll take your hand and hold it closer to mine. Thought love was dead by now you're changin' my mind!"

"My heart's a stereo," he sang as the music went back to normal. "It beats for you so listen close. Hear my thoughts in every note oh - oh! Turn me up when you feel low. This melody was meant for you, so sing along with my stereo. Oh - oh - oh to my stereo! Oh - oh - oh to my stereo."

The music stopped and everyone cheered for the song. They talked back and forth while Skyler turned to the band to tell them which song to play next. The cameras were still rolling and Skyler laughed when he saw that the cameramen were clapping and cheering as well. He was sure this would all get edited out of the show. This wasn't live after all. When everyone calmed down and the band was ready, Skyler strapped on his guitar and began to play along with them.

"Listen as the wind blows from across the great divide," he sang in a haunted voice. "Voices trapped in yearning, memories trapped in time. The night is my companion and solitude my guide. Would I spend forever here and not be satisfied?

"And I would be the one to hold you down, kiss you so hard, I'll take your breath away," he sang. "And after I'd wipe away the tears, just close your eyes dear."

He played for a bit and smiled at Tabitha's excited smile. When the music reached his cue he started to sing again.

"Through this world I've stumbled so many times betrayed," he sang. "Trying to find an honest word to find the truth enslaved. Oh - oh you speak to me in riddles and you speak to me in rhymes. My body aches to breathe your breath. Your words keep me alive.

"And I would be the one to hold you down, kiss you so hard, I'll take your breath away! And after I'd wipe away the tears just close your eyes, dear.

"Into this night I wander. It's morning that I dread. Another day of knowing of the path I fear to tread. Oh into the sea of waking dreams I follow without pride. Nothing stands between us here and I won't be denied.

"I'll be the one to hold you down, kiss you so hard, I'll take your breath away! And after I'd wipe away the tears just close your eyes dear. Just close your eyes."

"That one is awesome, Sky!" cried Jeff as he stood up and clapped his hands. "I love it!"

"Thanks," he said, grinning at him. "I'm kinda proud of that one."

"You should be, Skyler," said Tabitha with a huge smile. "It's amazing."

"Thanks, Mom," he said, blushing and making them laugh.

He turned to the band and told them what to play next. Then he started to play the intro on his own guitar and everyone got quiet. He stepped up to the mic stand and took a breath before he used his throaty, haunted voice to belt out the next song.

"You come out at night," he sang. "that when the energy comes and the dark side's light and the vampires roam. You strut your rasta wear, your suicide poem and a cross from a faith that died before Jesus came. You're building a mystery."

He played for a bit and watched them all for their reaction to the song. He hoped that Tabitha didn't get upset over the reference to Jesus. He didn't want to disappoint her. He loved this particular song because of the way he'd got it to sound. He hoped they all liked it too.

"You live in a church," he sang. "Where you sleep with voodoo dolls, and you won't give up the search for the ghosts in the hall. You wear sandals in the snow, and a smile that won't wash away. Can you look out the window without your shadow getting in the way?

"You're so beautiful with an edge and charm, but so careful when I'm in your arms. 'Cause you're workin', building a mystery. Holding on and holding it in. Oh yeah you're workin', building a mystery and choosing so carefully," he sang and then played with the band for a bit.

"You woke up screamin' aloud a prayer from your secret God," he sang. "You feed off our fears and hold back your tears, oh give us a tantrum and a know it all grin. Just when we need one, when the evening's thin.

"You're a beautiful, beautiful messed up man," he sang, editing the song for the kids. "You're setting up your razor wire shrine.

"Mmm, yeah 'cause you're workin', building a mystery Holding on and holding it in. Oh yeah you're workin', building a mystery and choosing so carefully. You're building a mystery."

He played the final note and then they were all on their feet again. He took off his guitar and headed over to hug Tabitha while the guys started packing up their instruments. Then he was in a sea of family and dancers as they praised his songs. Jeff grabbed him and hugged him when he let go of Tabitha. Then he was telling him that all three were singles as far as he could see.

"I've written more," he said when Jeff let go of him. "I'm almost done with another. Then I'll work on the music for it. It's going to be a while before I'm ready to record, but I loved the sound of these three with the band. I gave them the music in London and they've been practicing. This was the first time I got to sing the songs with the band playing though."

"Oh, Skyler," said Tabitha as she hugged him again. "They're such wonderful songs."

"Thanks, Mom," he said, hugging her again.

They had to leave for the arena after that for sound checks. Brody was already over there. They got through them fast and Skyler declared the sound systems ready. Then he was having a private word with the dancers about resting and drinking plenty of water. After that he sat on the floor of the party room with Jeff and the kids to play. He was so happy to be with Ashton again and he loved that the other children were so excited to see him, too. Jeff snapped pictures of Preston hugging Ashton and everyone said they wanted a copy of that one.

"They were really great songs, Sky," said Jeff when he sat back down beside him. "I loved that last one."

"I changed the lyrics slightly to make it kid safe," Skyler said. "You'll hear the real lyrics when I record it."

"I can't wait," he said. "You know this will be the first time that I can be there for your recording sessions from start to finish."

"How would you feel about producing a single or two?" Skyler asked, looking at him to catch his reaction.

"I'd love to," he said, smiling.

"You know you can start recording any time you want, Jeff," Skyler said carefully. He'd seen the notebook full of songs that Jeff had been writing. He hadn't read any of the lyrics but he knew that it was at least half way full.

"I'm not sure I want to," he said. "At least not right now."

"Any time you're ready you know you've got a home at Sky High," Skyler said.

"I don't want to do anything that takes me away from you for too long," he said. "We just got this time together. I don't want to end it so soon."

"Working on an album won't take you away from me," Skyler said with a smile. "You don't have to release it until you're ready."

"I might kick some things around in the studio when we get home," Jeff said, hugging him.

Ashton, Alyssa and Tabitha were joined by Aiden and his wife in the family section of seats that night. Skyler gave them the best show he could. He made sure to sing as much as he could to the children when he sang "Miracle" and smiled when he saw Ashton and Alyssa up and clapping. When he ended the show that night he praised Ashton's skating to the audience. They screamed and praised his son, making him smile.

The following night he brought Ashton out on stage so the fans could see him. They stood and cheered and screamed for him. Ashton was delighted. It was all he could talk about on the way back to the hotel. He was so excited that Skyler didn't think the boy would ever get to sleep. When he finally did Skyler followed Jeff back to the banquet room to check on the decorations for the party. The room was filled with pictures of Ashton. A huge blown up poster of the shot of Preston hugging Ashton was taking up half of one wall with pictures of the other children all together around it.

There were presents piled high on the table at the back of the room. Skyler had already seen the cake that would feed everyone and still have leftovers. Aiden had argued with Skyler about the cake and ice cream while Ashton was training, but he and Jeff had insisted that Ashton was still a kid and all kids needed birthday cake and ice cream. In the end Aiden had learned a valuable lesson about Skyler and Jeff. They wouldn't budge an inch when it came to one of their children.

Both Skyler and Jeff had spent a fortune on presents for the boy. Of course there was the special tour jacket for the tour along with two hats, programs and signed ticket stubs by both Skyler and Brody. It was a corny present from a famous father to his now famous son, but Skyler wanted him to have these things. There were also video games, a brand new skate case, six different jumpsuits that Aiden had approved and the required gadgets and toys that all children his age demanded. The present that Skyler and Jeff had collaborated on had actually been specially made for Ashton. It was a golden ice skate charm on a gold chain. The chain could be changed as he grew but the charm had cost quite a bit of money. The blade of the skate was encrusted with diamonds.

The room looked perfect. Skyler could see the party happening in his head and knew that Ashton would love it. He hugged Jeff and the pair went back up to their room to get some much needed sleep. They passed Bruce on his way out of the hotel. He and his construction crew would be heading to Florida with more than half the dancers from both Skyler's group and Brody's. Skyler, Jeff and the rest of the dancers, crews and assistants would fly to Florida the morning after the party to be there in plenty of time for Skyler's interviews and photo shoots.

Ashton actually loved his presents. Skyler was happy to see the excitement in the boy's eyes over the corny tour stuff. He put the jacket on and posed for pictures with Skyler and Brody. Then he opened the necklace that Skyler and Jeff had both given to him and he loved it. Skyler put it on him while Jeff got his camera ready. They stood back so that Jeff could take the picture, making sure that the charm was very visible.

They had cake and ice cream with everyone and then the children all played games. When the party was over the dancers that had stayed behind to be at the party helped to clean it up. Skyler and Jeff said a private goodbye to their son that was soaked in tears but laced with excitement for his coming competition.

"I'll take care of him, honey," said Tabitha as she hugged Skyler.

"I know you will," he said. "It just hurts to walk away from him again."

"Oh believe me I understand," she said. "Imagine how I felt watching Jason leave with you this time knowing that I wouldn't be there with him."

"You know that next time you're coming, right?" Skyler asked with a smile.

"Nothing on Earth could stop me," she said.

They boarded the jet the next morning to fly to Florida with heavy hearts. Skyler wasn't looking forward to what could be waiting for him in Florida. He'd gotten no calls from Bruce about any protesters, but he wasn't sure that there would be until he actually arrived. He wasn't ready for them after having to leave his son in DC. He wasn't sure what he'd do if he got off the jet and was faced with a group of them.


Stereo Hearts is a song by Gym Class Heroes. Possession and Building a Mystery are songs by Sarah McLachlan.

The next chapter will be posted soon.


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