© 2005-2015 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved


Chapter 107


In the days leading up to Preston's birthday party Skyler just enjoyed having all four of the children in the same place at the same time. He and Jeff spent a lot of time in the play room with the children. Surprisingly so did Brent. The kids loved him and he could be seen many times with them crawling all over him and a goofy satisfied grin on his face.

Jeff was still recording every morning. Skyler had heard that recording was going smoother for him now that he didn't have to worry about pleasing anyone. Skyler still wanted that song he heard to be the first single off that album. He wondered what he would call the album. He thought he should just self title it and let it go. After all it was his first solo. Hopefully there would be more than one. He was sure there would be.

"Life here in England seems more peaceful for you," Brent commented when they were sitting at the dining room table two nights before the party. They were still waiting on Jeff to come home from recording. He'd been at the studio for a long time that day.

"It is, but only because I refused to schedule anything until I'm ready," Skyler replied. "I'm holding out for Jase."

"So then we'll be in Sydney?" Brent asked.

"Well yeah, if you want to come with us," he said.

"Skyler, I'm not letting you out of my sight again," Brent said. "I love you like family, and I would never be able to live with myself if something happened to you and I wasn't there to protect you."

"Brent," he said and then stopped. He was moved by what his friend had said. He felt the same way for him, but he'd already been hurt protecting him once already. "You've already been hurt protecting me once. I don't want you to get hurt again."

"Then when we return to the States just buy us kevlar," Brent said. "I don't think you understand. CJ, Dom, Raf, Caeser and the rest of us love you like family, Sky. We'll never leave you."

Skyler was touched by that comment. He loved those guys, too but not as much as he loved Brent. He was the only one who had been with him since all of this began. He was his first real security man, the first to breach that friend category and the first to find his way into Skyler's heart. There was no way Skyler could picture his life without Brent around. That was the truth of the matter. He'd said to buy them kevlar. Well he'd look into that because he didn't want the man shot again. He didn't want any of them shot for that matter.

"Album's done!" cried Jeff as he came into the room, interrupting the moment. "I sure hope you saved me some roast beef."

"Hi, Baby," Skyler said as Jeff walked around the table to kiss him. "There's a lot left in the kitchen."

"Who cooked?" Jeff asked as he headed for the kitchen.

"Brent did, actually," Skyler said. "It's really good."

"Smells awesome," Jeff said as he turned out of the dining room and into the kitchen.

"I get what you're saying, Brent," he said when Jeff was in the kitchen. "Believe me I love you guys, too. I can't imagine life without you around for sure. The others are important to me, too. You were just the first."

"It's nice to know I hold a special place with you, but don't count the others out," Brent said with a soft smile. "They'd each have stepped in front of that gun for you."

"Let's hope they never have to prove that to me," he said as Jeff came back into the room with a plate of food and a bottle of water.

"This looks so good, Brent," Jeff said, grinning at the man.

"It's amazing," Skyler said. "So the album's finished?"

"Yep," he said. "Techie stuff to do and then it's all set. I have the first single all ready to be released. I'll wait a bit though."

"Which one are you releasing?" Skyler asked,

"The one you heard," he said. "'Fool'."

"That's the name of the song?" Brent asked.

"Yeah," said Jeff with a grin. "I wrote it with Skyler in mind."

"That's nice," Brent said, giving him an odd look.

"No," laughed Jeff. "It's not like that. It's a love song. It's about me being a fool for him."

"Oh," Brent said with a grin. "Romantic."

"Yeah," Jeff said with a blush.

After they'd eaten they went to the family room that was larger than any room in any house Skyler owned and got things ready for the party. The gifts that they had were wrapped on the side table in front of the floor to ceiling windows. They hung streamers and made little party bags for the kids with different toys inside. Skyler knew that some of the Sky High London staff were coming with their children. Madonna would bring Lourdes and Rocco, and there were the four upstairs to think of.

They used a helium tank to blow up balloons. Jeff inhaled the gas and said silly things to make them laugh. By the time they were done with the room it looked like it was ready for a party. They went up and got the kids for the reading hour which Brent joined them for. Then it was bath time for the kids again. Brent helped that time and things went smooth. They put the kids to bed and sat in the living room for a little bit just enjoying the silence of the house.

The next morning Madonna arrived with Guy and the kids. Then Cassie and Kaleb came in behind her. Skyler took his sister in his arms and hugged her tight. Madonna smiled at them as first Skyler hugged her and then Jeff hugged her. Skyler pulled his brother in law into a hug as well.

"What are you guys doing here?" he asked when he let go of Kaleb.

"Surprise," said Madonna.

"We'll be here and fly back to Orlando with you guys," Cassie said.

"So what's on your agenda for the coming month?" Madonna asked when they were seated around the living room to wait for the other guests to arrive.

"Well I'm gonna film the video for the first single off the album," he said. "Then I'm gonna fly to Paris and do two shows with the whole crew. These were reschedules from when Laura died. Then it'll be time to head back to LA to see Ashton skate. Then I guess I'll release the single and video and have a party for that."

"What about you?" she asked Jeff.

"Well I'm gonna film the video for my first single while he's in Paris," he said. "Then I'll be doing the same thing he's doing. I just have to decide when to release the single and video. I suppose Clay will set up a release party for that night somewhere, too."

"We liked the songs we heard on the show, Sky," Cassie said, smiling. "Are those going to be on the album?"

"The album is finished," he said, smiling back at her. "They're on there. I've already chosen the first single. It's a bit different from what you heard on the show. This album has an eclectic mix of sounds. I'm really proud of the finished product."

"It's pretty amazing," said Jeff. "I loved every track."

"Yes, it's nice when they're writing songs back and forth for each other," Madonna said with a sappy smile on her face.

"Quit it," laughed Skyler. "We're in love and can finally tell the world. It's amazing."

"I'm so happy that it all worked out for you guys," Cassie said. "Jeff, I'm sorry that it didn't go so well for you and your family."

"It's all right," he said. "You guys are my family, too. I love you all so very much."

"And we love you," said Cassie as she got up and walked over to hug him tight. "Where are the kids?"

"They're upstairs," Skyler replied. "I didn't want them to know there was a party until it starts."

"Mums the word," she said, running her fingers over her lips like she was zipping them. "I just want to see them. It's been too long."

"Well go on up," he said. "They're playing. Ashton is up there with them."

"Oh my God, Sky," she said excitedly. "I saw him skate on the video Mom sent us. He's amazing!"

"He certainly is," he said with a happy smile on his face. "I'm so damned proud of him."

"It was great to watch him," Kaleb said. "We're going to try to be in LA for Regionals."

"Well Skyler, what was the competition in July?" Madonna asked. "I thought that was Regionals."

"No," said Skyler. "The Novice division doesn't have qualifying events like the others. What Ashton competed in was just a competition thrown together to show the judges what the coaches have coming for them in October."

"All right," she said. "When exactly is Regionals?"

"The tenth through the twelfth of next month," he said. "They're holding them at the Sky High Sports Complex in Los Angeles for the very first time."

"That's awesome, Sky," she said. "But it also means that celebrities can get in and out without heading through the throng of reporters and fans."

"Yes," he said. "You have to have tickets to this event to get in. I own the place so of course I'll have a list of people who need no ticket, but they will all have to go in through the high security entrance behind the place. That'll take them to the dorms, but it isn't hard to get to the ice from there."

"Well, Sweetie, you'll just have to show us," she said, smiling. "We'll be as quiet as possible so we don't cause a scene."

"Oh, we won't be in the bleachers with everyone else," he said, laughing. "They built party boxes with one-way glass. It's perfect. They won't even know who is in the boxes just that someone is in there."

"That's perfect," she said. "Guy and I will be there then."

"Thanks, M," he said with a grin.

"He's our boy, too, Skyler," she said, grinning back at him.

People started to arrive after that. Skyler showed them all to what he called the family room. Each had presents with them. He took those and added them to the pile before he went and got the children from upstairs. They had gifts for each of the children so no one felt left out. Skyler thought it was a real shame that they weren't in Orlando for this. The party could have easily moved outside if they'd been in Orlando. As it was in Essex the sky was overcast and there was a chill in the air that made the outdoors a less suitable option for the children.

Matt and his lover arrived which shocked Skyler, but he was happy to see them. Charles Dechanel was a good looking guy with very dark hair and piercing azure blue eyes. He was as physically fit as Matt which was obvious from the way he filled out his casual cotton suit. They looked great together and very happy.

"Hi, guys," Skyler said with a smile as he took the gift they'd brought out of Matt's hands. "Everyone is in the family room. The kids are in there, too. Come on back."

"Skyler, this place is amazing," said Charles, looking around.

"Thank you," he said, beaming at him. "Come on, guys. Party's this way."

He led them back through the dining room to the family room where everyone was waiting. When everyone had arrived Skyler and Jeff brought out the huge cake that they'd paid a small fortune for. Skyler got Preston over to the cake while Jeff lit the candles. Everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to the child who clapped his hands and giggled the whole time. Then they helped him with his three candles and everyone applauded, making Preston clap his little hands and giggle again.

The small staff he'd hired to keep the place running was on hand to cut the cake and serve it with the ice cream. They also kept glasses filled with champagne, juice for the children and kept on the clean up. Skyler took the children over to the gift table and sat on the floor to hand Preston gifts while Jeff sat with the other children and gave them each their own gift.

Cassie, Kaleb, Madonna and Guy all had their cameras flashing as they snapped pictures of the boy who was quickly surrounded by wrapping paper. He was all smiles over his gifts which ranged from various toys and the like that were suitable for a three year old to smart looking outfits. The staff made sure that all of the paper was picked up and filed away in the trash bags they carried. The kids moved from gifts to cake and ice cream smoothly and the adults sat around talking with each other and watching over their children. The younger ones had to be helped a bit, but Skyler was content to let Preston and Junior get absolutely filthy with cake and ice cream. After all it was a party and they would wash easily enough.

The party broke up around six that evening. Skyler and Jeff stood at the door to thank people for coming. Some were carrying very sleepy young ones in their arms and couldn't shake hands or receive hugs. Matt and Charles were hugged and thanked as they left happily enough. When everyone was gone but those who were sticking around for a while Skyler and Jeff took the children upstairs to get cleaned up. For Preston and Junior that meant a total stripping down and a bath. The others filed into the living room to relax. When the pair joined them they were handed bottles of water from Cassie.

"Party wasn't the same without the rest of the family," Skyler said softly as he sat down beside Jeff on the sofa.

"They all wanted to be here, Sky," Cassie said. "Chad's putting finishing touches on his release party plans, Mom and Dad are both trying to be together again while Jase and Ali are in Hawaii. Cameron and Evan are dealing with their mother, and Alex is in Hawaii with Jase and Ali."

"Cass, I wasn't saying that I was upset because they didn't hop a plane and fly over here for his birthday," he said. "I was just whining a little. It feels safer over here, but it isn't home."

"When do you guys plan to return to the States?" Kaleb asked.

"We'll use the events we're traveling over there to attend as tests to see what happens," Skyler said. "The plan has been to stay here in England until it's time to leave for Sydney."

"Whenever that will be," Jeff said.

"Do you both hate it here so much?" Madonna asked, looking from Skyler to Jeff and back again.

"We don't hate it here, M," Skyler said. "We just miss everyone."

"We never said we were going to make this home base," Jeff said. "This place is our escape. We need it now, but we won't need it forever."

"I never meant that you guys should move over here and gain citizenship," she said. "I meant this to be a retreat from all of the headache."

"And that's what it's been," Skyler said quickly. "M, this place is amazing. We love it here but at the same time it just isn't home. Sydney won't be home either. I'll be whining about that in a while. Don't worry so much."

It took a lot more talking to get Madonna to see that they didn't hate it in England, but it wasn't home. In the end she accepted that they missed Los Angeles and Orlando and said that she completely understood. She told them that it was nice having them within easy reach all the time, but she understood that the estate in Essex was a getaway and nothing more. That's what she'd intended it to be. She was happy enough by the time that she, Guy and the kids left.

"Well," said Cassie with a sigh after the kids had all been read to, bathed and put to bed. It was later than usual but it had been fun. "You've recorded another album, so when's the tour?"

"No tour," Skyler replied. "Movies now, tour much later."

"I've heard that before," she laughed.

"Yes, but this time I'm going to be assisting Jase when he directs these two movies," he said. "Guy was talking to me about a project he's working on and asked me to call him when I'm done filming in Sydney. He wants me to assist him on this project. That's three movies. Maybe another after that with all the scripts that keep flying through Sky High. There's no time for a tour until well into next year or the year after. My career won't suffer for it. Trust me."

"I do trust you," she said, smiling. "You've got a great thing going now that you're all out. I'm just excited for you. Don't worry about me. Clay called me to tell me that you guys want me to tour with The Hardy Boys. He's already trying to book dates. I just wondered if we'd be on tour at the same time. That would make it harder for you to come see me and for me to come see you."

"Do me a favor," he said, smiling back at her. "Take Dad on that tour with you."

"He's already talked to me," she laughed. "He's bored now."

"I'll bet," he replied. "I'll catch a show or two while you're on the road. Don't worry. When I finally do go on tour you can come and see a show any time you like."

For the next few days they just hung out and enjoyed each other's company. Skyler and Jeff spent as much time with Ashton and the other children as they could. They didn't do anything that even remotely counted as work in those days and it was Heaven for them all. Skyler couldn't wait to go and see Chad though it meant letting go of Ashton once again. He consoled himself with the fact that he'd be at Regionals to see his son compete.

Jase called the day before they were to fly back to Orlando for the release party. He talked with Jeff about directing the video for his first single. Jeff was thrilled to have Jase film the video and spent close to two hours on the phone with him, talking about the concept he had in mind. Skyler was happy to see him so excited about his music again. It had been hard on Jeff when they'd booted him out of his group. Skyler was worried for him, but now he was happy again. That made Skyler happy.

That same day Skyler finalized the deal with Wolfgang French to film his video. He was a Sky High director so he knew that Skyler's vision was the one they'd go with. Skyler would listen to what the director said about certain things, but he had an idea in his head for the video. It was an idea that came with the idea to write the song the video would portray. He was happy enough when he got off the phone with the director who preferred to be called Wolf. It did mean flying back to London the morning after the release party, which only gave him mere hours to spend in the house in Orlando.

They got on the jet fairly easily. Skyler and Jeff saw to the kids before taking their seats across from Cassie and Kaleb. Cassie smiled when she saw that Brent sat on the other side of Skyler instead of with the security men who would travel with them. Brent was like family as far as she was concerned, and when she saw the way that he and Skyler bantered back and forth she understood that Skyler and Jeff felt the same way.

They passed the long flight singing songs to the kids and playing games with them. When they finally landed in Orlando Skyler was happy to see that there was no press and no fans waiting for him. They'd snuck in it seemed even though anyone who bothered to check would have known that he was flying in that day. They made it to the house and Skyler was both shocked and happy to find not only Tabitha waiting for him but the entire family. His father, Jase, Ali, Alex, Jason, Cameron, Evan, Chad and Darby were all there. He got hugs from so many people that all he could do by the end was smile.

"God it's good to see you again, Kid," said Jase as he hugged him. "I'm flying back to London with you guys in the morning. Sorry that it has to be such a short stay though."

"No worries," Skyler sighed. "It's just life. We all get through it."

Chad was a bundle of energy with his release party only hours away. The Thomas children sat with their parents and listened to all that they had to say. Then it was catch up time between Skyler and Chad. Cassie and Kaleb circulated from family member to family member. The kids were thoroughly hugged and kissed by their grandparents, uncles and aunts as well. They were all just so happy to see each other again that the time flew between the time they arrived and the time to get ready for the party. Helen arrived only to hug everyone before she took the children upstairs to change and then out to the pool.

The entire family climbed into SUVs and the caravan moved away from the gated community and through the streets of Orlando, making a spectacle and generally being a nuisance. They arrived at the center and found the press in throngs. Skyler was pleasantly surprised when they came no closer than twenty feet of him. They did ask questions, but it wasn't the frenzy he was used to. Shockingly they lost interest in him once they saw Chad. Then they were screaming finally and Chad was smiling.

Inside the center there were celebrities and fans everywhere. Skyler got hugs from Brian Krause, Brian Littrell, Lance Bass and Justin Timberlake. Kristy went straight for Cassie and Kaleb while Neve Campbell and Devon Sawa stuck to Skyler's group. MTV and MusicNow had reporters and cameras circulating the room. Chad gave his interviews and then they all found their seats. Chad went back stage to get ready to sing the song. He was announced and then they were all there. Chad, his band and his back up. Skyler wondered how the fans would react to his new sound. He got his answer when the music played and everyone was silent until Chad began to sing.

"It's been a while since I could hold my head up high, and it's been a while since I first saw you," he sang and played his guitar. "It's been a while since I could stand on my own two feet again, and it's been a while since I could call you.

"But everything I can remember," he sang louder. "As fucked up as it seems, the consequences that I've rendered, I've stretched myself beyond my means."

"It's been a while since I could say that I wasn't addicted, and it's been a while since I could say I love myself as well, and it's been a while since I've gone and fucked things up just like I always do, but all that shit seems to disappear when I'm with you.

"But everything I can remember," he sang louder again. "As fucked up as it seems, the consequences that I've rendered, I've gone and fucked things up again."

He played the slow rifts and then sang in the most haunted voice Skyler had heard out of him, "Why must I feel this way? Just make this go away. Just one more peaceful day.

"It's been a while since I could look at myself straight, and it's been a while since I said I'm sorry. It's been a while since I've seen the way the candles light your face. It's been a while, but I can still remember just the way you taste. But everything I can't remember as fucked up as it may seem, I know it's me. I cannot blame this on my brother. He did the best he could for me.

"And, oh, it's been a while since I could hold my head up high, and it's been a while since I said I'm sorry," he sang and brought the song to a close.

The response was deafening. They screamed and cheered, they had lit lighters as he sang. The crowd of fans and celebrities alike had been on their feet, swaying to the music. It was amazing to behold. Skyler was so happy for his brother that all he could do was stand there and cry like an idiot. Chad was beaming at everyone as the announcer announced that the video had been playing at the top of the hour every hour since nine a.m. that morning, the album was in stores.

Chad circulated and finally made his way to them. Skyler hugged him and congratulated him. The party lasted for hours, but Skyler, Jeff, Jase and Ali left to go back to the house. They had a very early flight and they still had to say goodbye to Ashton. That goodbye was tear filled with lots of hugging and crying. They settled into sleep with heavy hearts, proud of Chad but sad to leave their son behind.

The next morning there was no time for goodbyes. They were packed and in the SUV before the sun had even thought of lighting the sky. They were in the air just as the sun touched the clouds in the sky. The kids slept, the adults slept and when they woke up all they thought of was food. They ate and talked about the videos that would be filmed soon. Jase was excited to work with Jeff for the first time. Skyler was tired and a bit quiet as he munched on fruit and listened to their conversation. Helen had the kids and Skyler was so happy that she'd decided to travel back with them. She'd be staying with the children while Skyler and Jeff were both out of the house.

They got off the jet and Skyler was whisked away to the studio to film the video for his single. He was tired and not in the mood, but thankfully Wolf listened to everything he said. They did just what Skyler wanted and there was very little lip synching to be done. They shot his lip synch scenes and the rest were staged news broadcasts. His part of the video was done in a matter of hours. He was free to go with a promise from Wolf that he'd make sure the video was exactly what Skyler had outlined.

Bruce arrived with James and the dancers that same day. They along with his construction crew and the crew of techs and everyone else who'd been connected to the tour had taken over a hotel in London. James got them together the next morning for dance rehearsals. They were all perfect on the first run through. They did it each of the two days they were in London. Then Skyler was saying goodbye to Jeff, Jase and Ali and flying to France to perform the shows.

The first show went off without a hitch. The place was packed with fans, and it was standing room only in the stadium. Skyler gave them all he had and returned to the stage for six encore performances. By the end of the last one he told them he had no more songs to sing for them.

The second night was just like the first. Skyler ended that show on a happy note. He could finally say the tour was behind him. He spent that night in the hotel and then Jase, Jeff, Ali and all the kids were there in the morning. They boarded the jet and flew to Los Angeles. Skyler knew he needed some real rest after all of this hopping around, so he and Jeff spent time in the hot tub at the house. They played with the kids and quietly celebrated their reunion with Ashton. They didn't go to watch him practice. Evan was still taking care of that.

Everyone arrived the night before Regionals. Skyler put most of them up in his house. His mother and father put the rest in their house. They snuck into the complex and into the party box to watch the event. There were many really good skaters on the ice that night. Skyler and Jeff talked back and forth about this boy and that one. Finally it was Ashton's turn to skate and the box grew silent. He made no mistakes that they could see, but his scores were a lot lower than they expected. The crowd didn't like them either.

When they got back to the house that night Aiden came with Ashton who was upset over his low scores. Aiden was all controlled anger over it all. He assured Ashton that he had skated a flawless routine, and that the judges had favorites. His day would come. Skyler didn't like any of this, but he didn't say anything until he and Jeff were in their room. They talked about the judges having their favorite skaters and how wrong it all was, but Skyler mused that other parents were probably having the same conversation right then.

After the second night their son was in fifth place and didn't medal. Skyler was angry about it, but tried not to let Ashton see it. Everyone told him how great he was. They worked hard to keep his spirits up. The boy was happy enough when the whole gang flew to Orlando for Skyler's release party.

This time they had two weeks to spend in the house in Orlando and Skyler was happy for it. The house was so much different than the house in Essex, but they could spend time around the pool and get to know their house like never before. This would be the most time they'd spent in the house that Jeff had built for him and he knew that Jeff was happy to be staying there.

Cassie and Kaleb went back to their apartment while their mother and father went back to the house that they'd all been living in before Jeff had paid to have this house built. Jase and Ali stayed with Skyler and Jeff. Alex stayed with Cassie and Kaleb while Evan and Cameron stayed with their father.

They all got together for cook outs at Skyler and Jeff's house as often as they could. The kids were eating up the sunshine and the outdoor fun. They loved to be in the pool, and Skyler and Jeff were happy to oblige them most of the time. Skyler noticed a curious thing about three days after they'd arrived in Orlando. Brody Tanzek was at the house with Jason quite a bit. Brody would be going on tour with Cory Stephens in May. It took exactly two days for Skyler to figure out that Brody and Jason were more than friends.

"You do know that he'll be gone for at least three months on tour very soon," Skyler told Jason when Brody flew to New York to attend the release party for his latest single.

"Skyler, I'm going with them on tour," Jason said, shocking him. "I've agreed to dance for Brody's show."

Skyler didn't know what to think about that. He was happy for them as long as they were happy together, and he was so happy that his little brother had found someone to be with. He just hoped that the strain of dating a celebrity didn't make it difficult for his brother. He'd never dated anyone outside the industry, but even dating another celebrity wasn't always perfect. There were still long periods of time when he couldn't be with Jeff and that was hard on both of them.

"So you'll be leaving us for dance rehearsals in LA again?" Skyler asked.

"They're holding dance rehearsals here in Orlando," informed Jason. "Cory will be here for his own dance rehearsals as well. We're all talking about renting an apartment together."

"Well it's great that you guys want to support each other in that way," Skyler said. "I just want you to be sure about you and Brody before the two of you move in together. How much are you going to be paid for dancing on this tour?"

"Clay told me that I'd be paid the same amount that I made dancing in your shows," replied Jason.

"You're not a boy anymore, Jason," Skyler said as an idea came to him. He'd been thinking about the amount of money that Jason had made dancing in his shows. Jason had put almost all of that money away in the bank. He never really needed any of it because everyone was always paying for whatever he needed. "You should set up a home base. I know you like living with me or with Mom and Dad, but you're an adult now."

"I didn't know what any of you would say about me buying a house," Jason replied. "I've been thinking about it. I didn't tell anyone, not even Brody, but I did tour one of the new houses in this community. I loved it."

Skyler wanted to see the house so Jason called the office and they went and got the keys. They walked to the house from the office and Skyler was shocked to find that the house that Jason wanted was only four houses down from his own. The houses weren't all that close together, but he'd be closer than Skyler had thought. These houses had all been built while they were in Australia, Los Angeles and England. There were quite a few of them now, and Skyler noticed that he now had neighbors. They hadn't bothered him so far so he wasn't all that worried about them.

The house that Jason wanted to buy wasn't as large as the one that Skyler now lived in, but it was big enough. The brochure they gave them in the office told him that the house was two and a half stories tall with four bedrooms on the second floor. A loft took up what there was of the third floor and there was a formal dining room, living room, family room, kitchen and mud room on the first floor. The house had a pool that was nowhere near as large as the one behind Skyler's house, but it was adequate. There was an outdoor barbecue and patio. They walked into the house through the front double doors that took them into a hall that was spacious. The floor was white marble tile that flowed seamlessly into the base of the white marble tiled walls. A curved, open staircase was to the left on the other side of a doorway that opened into the formal dining room.

The dining room was long but not overly long. There were floor to ceiling windows in this room and a chandelier hung from the ceiling. From the dining room they entered the kitchen with most of the same appliances and features as Skyler's kitchen. French doors off the breakfast nook opened to the patio where the barbecue was located. They went back through the dining room to the living room directly across the hall. This room also had floor to ceiling windows that let in a lot of natural light. There were outlets for cable television as well as a telephone and broadband Internet connection.

An archway in the inner wall of the living room led them into the family room. There was a fireplace in this room and more floor to ceiling windows. A ceiling fan with six lights hung from the ceiling. Another set of French Doors opened to the patio with steps down to the pool and built in hot tub. The office was just off the back hall and was spacious with high windows that let in quite a bit of light. Across from the office was the downstairs bathroom.

The bedrooms on the second floor were spacious with walk-in closets. The master was almost as big as Skyler's with it's own huge master bathroom. All was white on the second floor much like the first. The loft extended over the back third of the upstairs. There were high windows there as well. The house was beautiful but plain. Of course they'd left it that way so that the new owner could choose his or her own color schemes for each room.

The asking price for the house was just over three million dollars. Skyler knew that Jason could buy the house for the asking price but it would nearly deplete his bank accounts to do it. He thought about helping his brother, but then told him to make a lower offer and see what happened. All of this had to wait until Jason had broken the news to their parents and allowed them to look at the house as well.

Their mom and dad went with him later that afternoon to look at the house. Skyler told Jeff and Jase about it while they were over there. Both men thought it was a great idea for Jason to invest in a house and make his home base. They were both shocked that Skyler had only just discovered that Jason and Brody were a couple. It seemed that the pair had been less than secretive about their relationship and it was common knowledge for most of the family. Skyler felt stupid for a second before he remembered that he'd been pretty busy going over tour dates and sponsors for Cassie's tour with The Hardy Boys that would be leaving the States around the same time that Brody and Cory went on tour.

"You know that I'll support you and Jason being together unless you hurt him," Skyler told Brody when the young man returned from New York the day of Skyler's release party. "We're friends, Brody, but if you hurt Jason we won't be anymore."

"I won't hurt him, Sky," Brody said. "I love Jason. I have for a while now. I know that he loves me, too. We may be young but so are you."

"We're all young, Brody," he said. "The difference between me and you is that I had to grow up a long time ago. I'm not saying that I believe that you will hurt Jason. I'm just letting you know that I love my little brother so very much and that even though you love him I know from personal experience that love doesn't always keep us from hurting people."

"You have my word," Brody said. "Is that enough?"

"It is until you break it," Skyler said. "Don't get upset. I'm not trying to say that you'll break your word on purpose, but we're human and shit happens."

Their conversation was cut short then because everyone came into the room. More than half of Skyler's dancers were in Orlando getting ready for Cassie's dance rehearsals. They'd agreed to tour with her. Most of them were in and out of Skyler's house just like the family. Private talks were not easy. Brody hugged him and Skyler hugged him back. The two men smiled at each other and Skyler let it go at that. He went upstairs to start getting ready for his party.

Hard Rock was packed when they arrived. They were playing his music over the sound system. There were people dancing while some were seated at tables with champagne. Skyler went back stage to get ready for the number. The band was already there. They'd been there half the day rehearsing the song. Skyler talked to each of them about musical cues and the like. When Carson Daly came to tell him that it was time they all filed onto the stage and waited for the lights to turn up. Skyler sat on the stool in the center of the stage just as the spotlight found him and the band began to play.

"Jimmy got nothing made himself a name with a gun that he polished for a rainy day," he sang in his breathy voice. "A smile and a quote from a vigilante movie, our boy Jimmy blew them all away. He said it made him crazy. Twenty-five years livin' hand to mouth, hand to mouth, hand to mouth, hand to mouth.

"Sweet little baby on a big white doorstep. She needs here mother, but her mother is dead. Just another hooker that the lucky can forget. Just another hooker. It happens every day. She loved her little baby, but she couldn't bear to see her livin' hand to mouth, hand to mouth, hand to mouth, hand to mouth.

"I believe in the Gods of America," he sang louder. "I believe in the land of the free, but no one told me that the Gods believe in nothing. So with empty hands I pray, and from day to hopeless day they still don't see me."

He let the band play for a bit and looked out at the faces in the club. He saw his family all seated together and smiled when he saw Brody holding Jason's hand at their table. Jeff was all smiles as he watched him on the stage. Cassie was leaning against Kaleb, who was tapping his foot to the beat of the song. He was ever the dancer.

"Everybody talks about the new generation," he sang in his breathy voice when he heard the cue. "Jump on the wagon or they'll leave you behind. But no one gave a thought to the rest of the nation, like to help you buddy, but I haven't got the time. Somebody shouted save me, but everybody started livin' hand to mouth, hand to mouth, hand to mouth, hand to mouth.

"There's a big white lady on a big white doorstep. She asked her daddy and her daddy said yes. Has to give a little for the dollars that we get, has to give a little, the say it's for the best. Somebody shouted maybe, but they kept on livin' from hand to mouth, hand to mouth, hand to mouth, hand to mouth.

"So she ran to the arms of America," he sang louder. "And she kissed the powers that be, and someone told me, someone told me that the Gods believe in nothing. So with empty hands I pray, and I tell myself someday they just might see me. Oh I tell myself one day they just might see me."

The band played for a bit longer and then stopped. Everyone cheered and applauded. He smiled and stood up as Carson came to interview him about the song and where the lyrics had come from. Skyler told him about news stories he'd heard while on tour and that the idea was born from them. Carson asked about the album and Skyler told him that it had been a pleasure to record. He told him that he was looking forward to the fan response. Carson left him after that.

The album had been on sale in music stores and online since that morning. Clay was checking in with the office to track sales. He and Matt were walking around the room, talking to people. Twice Carson stopped Matt to ask him a few questions. Skyler was happy to see that both times Carson didn't stick around the man long. Clearly Matt hadn't said anything that sparked the reporter's interest. He'd have still been talking to him if he had.

The video screens lowered from the ceiling and the video began to play. People watched it as they moved through the room. Several were commenting on this segment or that. Skyler wasn't actually in the video until the very end. Most of it were reenactments of news pieces. The video was graphic and showed things that most news programs wouldn't show. They weren't all of the things he'd written lyrics about. These were reenactments of actual news programs with stories about violence and hunger.

After the video the special video that he and Guy had put together with Madonna's input began to play. Skyler was singing in the video, telling everyone to get stupid. He sang that it was their world, their choice. Why turn your head to the happenings around you. Get stupid, stand up. Your world, your choice. The video showed scenes of war, explosions, riots in the streets, the people marching in France and Ireland, war zones and so many other things that had been on the world news since the nine eleven bombings.

The video shocked people, it pushed buttons and was in the face of everything no one wanted to think about. Skyler intended it to be that way, and Guy had done a remarkable job of filming it. Skyler laughed when Carson Daly told him that MTV would never play that video. He had known they wouldn't. He would play it during his concerts when he went on tour again. He'd play it at each release party until the "conflict" in Iraq was settled.

When they got back to the house all of them were talking about the videos. They told him how much they loved the song. The video they could have done without. He explained to them that the "Get Stupid" video wasn't part of the song or the video for the song. It was a personal statement about what was going on in the world. They didn't get it, but then he hadn't expected them to get it right away. He hoped it would make people think, get involved and do something.

The next day he played the videos for the dancers while they were at the house. All of them understood what he was trying to do. Several times on the tour they'd talked with him about what they thought of what was going on in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. They talked about what they thought about the nine eleven attacks and whether or not they believed that there had been advanced knowledge. Each of them thought that President George W. Bush had an agenda, and that a lot of the terrorist threats he talked about were bogus.

Skyler got two calls that day. The were both from Clay. The first was to tell him that the album had gone diamond about an hour before the release party. That call had him dancing in the living room. It was breaking records all over the place with that kind of release. The second call made him laugh like crazy. He was told that MTV, VH1 and MuchMusic had pulled the video. MTV had played it once and then pulled it. The other two networks weren't even playing it once. MusicNow was not only playing the video for his song, they were also playing the four minute "Get Stupid" video as well.

The "Get Stupid" video was all everyone talked about for the days leading up to Jeff's release party. Skyler was afraid that his video would overshadow Jeff's release. Jeff wasn't worried though. He commended Skyler's decision to make the video and told him that he hoped people talked about it for a long time. Skyler assured him that with MusicNow playing the video at the top of every hour along with the "Hand to Mouth" video, people would be talking about it for a long time.

It was the talk of the news programs for days. Every news program they watched talked about the video, but none of them played it. Some said it was in poor taste while others commended him for standing up and getting America to think. They talked about the music networks' decision to ban the video as well as MusicNow's decision to play both videos. Late night talk show hosts went on and on about it. Calls came in from Jay Leno and David Letterman asking that he be a guest on their show and perform the song. He always asked them which song they were talking about. He didn't consent to either show with so much going on. He felt that subtlety was the key in this instance. He had them talking. That was the important thing.

The night of Jeff's release party all they talked about was Jeff's album. Skyler was happy about that as they got into the SUV and headed for the center. The Tobias Clemmons Center was just as packed for Jeff's release as the Hard Rock Cafe had been for his. He was happy about that, too. He so wanted Jeff's album to be successful.

He sat at the table with his family to wait for Jeff and his band to get ready to perform. They were playing his album in the center that night, and Skyler thought it sounded great. His family all commented on it, too. The lights went down and the spotlight found Jeff who was seated on a stool much like Skyler had been at his own performance. The music started and everyone got quiet.

"Seems my own arrogance has knocked me off my feet again," Jeff softly sang into the microphone. Skyler smiled as he heard it. "When you know I'm crawling to you as fast as I can, first teach me to walk and then I'll learn to dance for you, like an honest clumsy clown, tripping along the way.

"'Cause I'm reaching for you but arms aren't long enough," he sang. "And I am running to you if I could go a little faster, and I'm crying to you but I can't hear my own voice, and I'm waiting for you and trying not to fall asleep now.

"'Cause I'm clumsily dancing away this fear," he sang louder. "I'm stumbling closer to you, and I'm tumbling over my pride I will be a fool for you.

"'Cause I'm reaching for you but my arms aren't long enough, and I'm running to you if I could go a little faster, and I am crying to you but I can't hear my own voice, and I am waiting for you and trying not to fall asleep now.

"And I am clumsily dancing away this fear," he sang louder again. "I'm stumbling closer to you, and I am tumbling over my pride. I will be a fool for you."

The music played for a little bit without him singing. Then he put the mic to his mouth and sang, "Oh, eeh, oh, yeah." He sang that four times and let the music play a bit more. Then he sang again in the louder voice.

"And I am clumsily dancing away this fear. I'm stumbling closer to you and I'm tumbling over my pride. I will be a fool for you," he sang and stood up.

"And I am clumsily dancing away this fear," he sang even louder. "I'm stumbling closer to you and I'm tumbling over my pride. I will be a fool for you. Yes, I will be a fool for you." The music played for a bit and then it stopped and he sang, "Oh I will be a fool . . . for you."

Then everyone was cheering and screaming for him. Skyler smiled wide. He was so happy for him. Jeff was all smiles on the stage as he thanked everyone for coming. Then he came down and talked with Carson. It seemed that they loved Jeff's music, and that made Skyler very happy.


"It's Been a While" is a song by Staind. "Hand to Mouth" is a song by George Michael. "Fool" is a song by Lifehouse.
The next chapter will be posted soon.


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