© 2005-2010 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 11

"You know I'm really glad that you called, Sky," said Justin Timberlake as he and Skyler sat near the pool at the hotel. "I didn't think you even realized I was still in Orlando."

"I didn't at first," admitted Skyler. "I found out yesterday, but with the benefit going on there was just so much to do."

"I can understand that," he replied. "I saw you on television this morning."

"Yeah? What'd you think?" asked Skyler.

"Well I like the idea of creating a foundation for the guy," said Justin. "But aren't you afraid of what people will think about you?"

"Why should I be?" asked Skyler. "It's a shelter for victims of hate crimes, Justin. Homosexuals aren't the only people to fall victim to a hate crime."

"I know that," he said. "I would just have been too worried to add my name to it."

"That's not right," said Skyler, thinking that maybe Justin wasn't as much of a good guy as he'd thought he was. "We're celebrities, and we should use that to help people. There's more to life than selling records."

"True," agreed Justin. "I'm just not sure I would have been brave enough to do what you did."

"Let's talk about something else," said Skyler, wanting to change the subject before he got angry. "Tell me about the other guys in the group."

"Well," laughed Justin, "they're a great bunch of guys. Lance is our schedule keeper of the group. He always knows where we're going and what we're doing before any of the rest of us. JC is like my big brother. He's always been around for me. Joey and Chris are our practical jokers. They really got into the practical jokes after reading about Mickey Splendt on your tour."

"Yeah," laughed Skyler, "Mickey's a character all right."

"You know we'd never even heard of Utopia until the tour," said Justin. "But that doesn't really mean anything I guess. We were in Europe for a while."

"Why did you guys start out in Europe?" asked Skyler. "You're an American group."

"We released a single in America," said Justin. "It didn't do very well with Backstreet and everyone else buzzing up the charts. I don't feel so bad though. Backstreet had to start in Europe too. You're just one of the lucky ones."

"Everyone keeps telling me that," laughed Skyler.

"You know they're calling you 'The Fame Grabber' in the press," said Justin. "Four different magazines have called you that."

"I don't keep up on the magazines," replied Skyler. "I did a bunch of interviews on the tour and photo shoots too. I don't know what magazine got what."

"Oh just about every magazine in the country," laughed Justin. "You are all over the place. JC is still freaking out over the fact that every show in your tour sold out."

"The record company was excited about that too," said Skyler. "I was just happy that the tour was finally over. I loved it at first, but then I was just tired all the time."

"That's life on the road," replied Justin. "The beginnings of tours are always awesome. The excitement of being on stage is unreal, but then you get so far into it and all you want to do is sleep."

"Tell me about it," chuckled Skyler.

"You know people are still talking about what happened with you and your manager," said Justin. "And the deal you made with your record company was outrageous! Lance choked when he read about that. You're nineteen years old, and they gave you complete freedom over your music. How did you pull that off?"

"I threatened to leave the label," replied Skyler with a shrug. He wasn't about to tell him that Madonna had pulled the strings and made it happen.

"But you had a contract," he said.

"Well I told them I'd record their two albums, I wouldn't tour or promote either album and then I'd go to a new label," said Skyler.

"Wow," laughed Justin. "You got guts."

"Well I didn't like the way things were going while I was on tour," explained Skyler. "First they booked all sorts of personal appearances without telling me until the day of the event then there was the Orlando video. That was a bad deal. Let me tell you!"

"Yeah but the video was awesome," insisted Justin. "What makes you say it was a bad deal?"

"It's Madonna's song," said Skyler. "She only consented to let me sing it live. She knew they were taping the last show in New York, but they didn't have her permission to tape her song and release it on like every music network in the world."

"Yeah that would be kind of bad," nodded Justin. "But what else started all of this?"

"The songs they wanted me to sing for the new album," replied Skyler. "I hated singing 'Dizzy' and 'Cupid', but at least 'Dizzy' turned out to be amazing. They had a bunch of bubble gum pop music ready for me to record, and I let them know that I was done with that kind of music."

"You fired your manager over that?" asked Justin with a look of awe on his face as he stared at Skyler.

"I didn't fire Barry," he said. "He resigned."

"So now what?" asked Justin. "You have an awesome deal with your record company and no manager?"

"Oh I have a manager," replied Skyler. "Clay Silver is my manager now, and as for what comes next I record 'Calling You' with The Florida Metropolitan University Orchestra tomorrow morning and donate all proceeds to the foundation."

"But what about new music?" asked Justin. "What are you going to do for your new album?"

"I'm not doing a new album for a little while," informed Skyler. "I'm going to start filming a movie as soon as they get the cast figured out, and I'll probably write a song for the soundtrack. After that I'll work on my album."

"Now you're going to do a movie?" asked Justin, wearing a stunned expression.

"Yeah," laughed Skyler. "I started as an actor remember?"

"Wow," laughed Justin. "You really can do it all."

"Oh I don't know about that," said Skyler. "I'm not ready to direct anything yet."

"The guys have got to meet you," said Justin seriously. "What are you doing tonight?"

"Sitting in the hotel," replied Skyler.

"Well why don't you come to JC's house?" asked Justin. "We're having a little informal party to celebrate the album. No industry, press or fans. Just us and one or two friends."

Skyler thought about that for a second. He hadn't really done anything fun that didn't involve the press, industry or fans in a long time. He could use a night away from it all. Sure he could get that hanging out with Madonna, Niki and Kristy, but they were all leaving. That would leave him and the twins alone for the night.

"Can I bring the twins?" asked Skyler.

"Sure," said Justin. "Those guys are fun to hang out with. I'll even pick you up."

"What time?" he asked.

"Around eight or so," said Justin.

Around eight or so to Justin turned out to be ten o'clock. Skyler was about to give up after nine, but when Justin showed up he apologized and said that he had run into a problem. He didn't explain what had happened, so Skyler didn't know what it was that kept him two hours late. Justin just acted as if this was completely normal, so Skyler didn't say anything about it. He and the twins just followed Justin to the elevator out through the lobby doors and to his SUV.

"The guys are really excited that you're coming, Sky," he said as he sped through traffic, scaring Skyler and the twins out of their wits.

"How many people are there?" asked Skyler.

"Just the guys and Brit," replied Justin. "She's putting together an album of her own so don't worry, she knows how to act."

"I wasn't worried about it," said Skyler.

By the time they reached JC's house, Skyler was ready to get out and walk. The twins were clutching their seatbelts with looks of terror on their faces, and Skyler would have laughed at them if he hadn't been feeling pretty much the way they looked. He hoped that one of the other guys would drive them back to the hotel, and he hoped that whichever one it was didn't drive like Justin.

The house wasn't what Skyler had expected. It was a two story white house with columns in the front supporting a terrace from the second story. There were immaculately groomed shrubs around the front porch with white and purple flowers. There were three more SUVs in the driveway, and Skyler wondered why they seemed to like SUVs so much.

"Finally, Curly," cried a voice when they walked into the house. "Where have you been?"

"Car broke down," said Justin. "Come on, Sky. Cassie, Chad, just make yourselves at home. There's soda in the kitchen and food all over the place."

"Nice, Curly," said a dread locked dark haired guy as he came into the hall. "Cassie, Chad, my name's Joey. Just follow me and I'll show you around."

The twins followed Joey off through the house as Skyler followed Justin into what had to be the living room. There were two blond haired girls sitting together on one couch, and they looked at Skyler when he came into the room. Their conversation stopped, but they didn't say anything to him. The staring made him slightly uncomfortable though, and he thought Justin had said that they knew how to act.

"Skyler Thomas," said Justin with a big smile on his face, "Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera."

"Ladies," said Skyler, nodding at the pair of young women sitting on the couch.

"Nice to meet you, Skyler," said one, standing. She reached out to shake his hand. "I'm Britney."

"Nice to meet you," he replied, shaking her hand.

"I'm Christina," said the other, waving at him. "Nice to meet you."

"Where are Lance, Chris and JC?" asked Justin, sitting down beside Christina.

"Lance is upstairs," said Britney, sitting back down beside Christina. "Chris and JC ran off a few minutes ago. They'll be back."

Skyler sat down in the chair next to the couch. He didn't know what to say to the girls. He'd never really been comfortable with girls. Until Kristy, Gabrielle and Madonna he had always been nervous around them. Even in college he'd been nervous. Well he hadn't been nervous around Linda until Mark told him that she liked him.

"I love your music, Skyler," said Christina. "You've got a great voice."

"Thank you," he replied, smiling. "I'm sorry to say that I don't think I've heard your music."

"Well unless you watched 'MMC' you wouldn't have yet," she laughed. "I'm trying to get my shit together."

"We both are," nodded Britney. "It won't be much longer."

"What's it like to work with Madonna?" asked Christina.

"She's great," replied Skyler. "I was a bit nervous at first, but now we're close."

"You're friends with her?" asked Britney with wide eyes.

"Sure," said Skyler, nodding. "We got to be friends when we were writing the song."

"He just basically bullied his record company into a new contract," laughed Justin. "Now he can sing whatever he wants."

"When are you going to record your next album?" asked Britney.

"I'm not sure yet," he replied. "I'm waiting to hear about the movie first. I'm not sure when we start filming."

"Movie?" asked Christina.

"Yeah I'm going to be playing a character in Anger," he replied.

"That's the one about the riots right?" asked Britney as Joey led the twins back into the room with glasses of soda.

"Yeah," he said, smiling. He was happy that someone actually knew what movie he was talking about.

"I watched every episode of 'Secrets Of the Morning' with you in it," laughed Britney. "You're a great actor."

"Thanks," he said. "I'm looking forward to acting again."

"Why aren't you still on the show?" asked Christina.

"My contract was up," he replied. "I just didn't renew it."

"Skyler Thomas," said a dark haired guy around Skyler's age. His hazel eyes bored into Skyler as he looked at him. He came into the room and stood in front of Skyler holding out his hand. "Josh Chasez."

"Nice to meet you," said Skyler, shaking his hand as he stood.

"You're music is incredible," said JC. "You've got a great voice."

"Thank you," he replied, not taking his eyes away from JC's face.

"Pleasure's mine," replied JC, smiling at him. "Curly tells me that you're getting ready to start a movie."

"Yeah," said Skyler. "A film about drug riots in New York."

"Back off, Josh, the rest of us want to talk to him too you know," said another voice from behind JC.

"Sorry," said JC, and Skyler thought he actually blushed. He walked over and sat beside the twins on the other couch across the room.

"Chris Kirkpatrick," said the newcomer, shaking Skyler's hand.

"Nice to meet you," replied Skyler, dragging his eyes away from JC to look at the dark haired young man before him.

"Sorry about JC. He can be a bit much," laughed Chris.

"Hey!" cried JC from across the room as another young man walked into the room.

"He's here," he said, pushing Chris aside and shaking Skyler's hand. "Lance Bass."

"Nice to meet you," replied Skyler.

"So what's this I hear about you and Madonna having an affair?" asked Christina from her seat on the couch. She was smiling from ear to ear.

"You're talking about the 'Enquirer' thing right?" laughed Skyler.

"That and every other tabloid in the country," laughed JC. "There are pictures of you two in several."

"I think it started when we were in Detroit just before Christmas," replied Skyler. "She helped me get guardianship of my brother and sister."

"Madonna is very cool," said Chad, who, along with Cassie, had remained silent until then. "She just started telling people what to do, and then we were in New York with Sky."

"She took us shopping in Seattle," said Cassie, smiling. "We had a great time."

"All of you know her?" asked Britney.

"She's like our big sister," said Skyler. "She even helped me with the record company after Barry quit."

"She's your manager?" asked Lance.

"No Clay Silver is my new manager," corrected Skyler. "Madonna just helped me get things done at the record company."

"Yeah he's got an awesome new contract," laughed Justin. "He basically told them he wasn't going to sing what they told him to anymore, and now he has full control over his next four albums."

"Well it didn't happen quite that way," said Skyler, "but with Madonna's help I do have more freedom."

"So when are you recording another album?" asked Lance.

"Not for a while," said Skyler. "I want to focus on the movie first. I might write something for the soundtrack, but I'm not sure yet."

"He's going to be in Anger," said Britney.

"Very cool," said Chris. "I read the book while we were in Europe. Great storyline."

"The script is amazing," replied Skyler. "I can't wait to start shooting."

"Which character are you playing?" asked Chris.

"Neil," Skyler informed.

"Doesn't he die like half way through the story?" asked Chris.

"Something like that," replied Skyler, not wanting to reveal anything from the script.

They talked about the movie for a while, and Skyler gradually grew more comfortable with all of them. He noticed JC looking at him a few times, but he was too busy trying to look at each of them as they talked to him to pay any attention. He did hear the music when JC got up and turned on the stereo. It was one of his songs, and he smiled.

"Dance with me, Sexy," said Christina, pulling him out of his chair.

As the others watched Skyler imitated some of the moves from the tour, and Christina picked them up pretty quickly. They danced until the song was over, and then she was standing there smiling at him. He smiled back, but he was happy when the next song started. It wasn't one of his it was something he'd never heard before. It reminded him of Utopia, but only in a vague way.

"This is a great song," he said as he listened. He noticed the guys watching him closely. "Who is this?"

"Us," said JC, smiling. "The album comes out in a few days."

"You guys sound great," said Skyler seriously. He liked the song, and they did sound good.

* * *

"He liked our stuff," said an excited Justin after he returned from dropping Skyler and twins off at their hotel. He was smiling from ear to ear, and JC and Lance couldn't help smiling back at him.

"He's cool," said Lance after a minute. "The twins were awful quiet though."

"Cassie was just excited," said Justin. "She talked about JC all the way back to the hotel."

"She's a cutie," chuckled JC. "Too young though."

"And the wrong sex," mumbled Lance.

"Besides," said Justin, "I saw they way you gawked at Skyler."

"Shut up," laughed JC, shoving Justin. He was blushing bright red, and Lance laughed at him. He really did think Skyler was attractive, but that didn't even mean the guy was gay. JC decided that Skyler, even if he was gay, wasn't really in his league.

"Well it doesn't matter," insisted Justin. "He seemed to really like Christina. Did you see they way they danced together?"

* * *

"Surprise!" cried Brian Littrell when Skyler and Niki got back to the hotel the following day. They'd been recording "Calling You" with the orchestra. It had gone really well, and Skyler loved the way the song sounded when they'd played the tape.

"Brian!" cried Skyler, wrapping his arms around his friend. "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be in LA."

"They canceled four shows," said Brian, squeezing Skyler back. "Something to do with illegal tickets."

"I didn't think I'd get to see you while I was here," said Skyler, stepping back to look at him. "I made them drive by your house though."

"You did?" laughed Brian. "I got here this morning, and after we all got settled in at home I came over here."

"We were recording," said Skyler. "I just came back to ask the twins if they wanted to go to lunch with me."

"You're too late," said Niki. "I just heard that they left a little while ago with Kristy."

"Well why don't you have lunch with me,then?" asked Brian, smiling at him. "We can head over to Hard Rock or something."

"Sounds good," replied Skyler. "Niki, do you want to come?"

"Oh no," she laughed. "I want sleep. I was up late last night."

"Well we'll see you a little later then," said Brian, still smiling.

"Have fun, boys," she laughed as she walked into her room.

Skyler tried very hard to control himself as he followed Brian back to the elevator. He was so happy to see him that he wasn't sure what he would say or do. He kept reminding himself that Brian was straight and had no idea that Skyler was gay or that he had feelings for him. He just hoped it was enough to keep him from making a huge mistake. That would be disastrous.

"So how did the benefit go?" asked Brian once they were in the elevator. "I saw the news. I think it's great that you guys are going to be a part of the foundation."

"The benefit went amazingly well," replied Skyler. "We raised over seven hundred thousand. A million plus when you add the checks that Madonna and I wrote for the foundation. The Clemmons' were very pleased."

"You said you were recording today?" asked Brian.

"We recorded 'Calling You' with The Florida Metropolitan University Orchestra," Skyler informed. "Tobias Clemmons played the cello in that orchestra before he died, and they played the music for us at the benefit. The song sounded amazing with their music, so I recorded it that way. I want to release it as a single and donate everything it makes to the foundation."

"Sounds awesome," replied Brian, smiling at him. "You're doing a great thing, Sky."

"I really hate it that these things go on in the world, and no one does anything to stop it," Skyler said a little more heatedly than he'd intended.

"I can see that you feel very passionate about this," said Brian. "It shows me a great deal about you, Sky. You're a great guy."

"Thanks," he said, blushing and looking down. "I didn't do any of this for recognition though."

"I know," said Brian seriously. "That's what makes it even more special."

They were silent as they got off the elevator, and Skyler smiled when Brent and Alex came off another elevator and tailed them out of the building. They got into Brian's car as Brent and Alex climbed into an SUV that was parked beside Brian's car. Skyler was still trying to get used to having security with him wherever he went. Brian didn't seem phased by their presence though, so Skyler assumed that he was used to it.

"So how's the tour going?" he asked once they were safely in the car.

"It's been an experience," laughed Brian. "I'm having a ball though. The guys are all having fun."

"Any jokers on your tour?" asked Skyler, thinking of Mickey Splendt's practical jokes on his tour.

"Not like Mickey," laughed Brian. "AJ can pull a few though."

They laughed and talked about jokes they guys played on each other all the way to the restaurant. Skyler was thankful that they discussed the other guys and Utopia, because that way he could focus on what he was thinking and saying without making a fool of himself. He couldn't believe how Brian had gotten to him the way he had. It was strange for Skyler. He'd never felt that way about anyone before in his life. Sure he'd had crushes, but this was completely different. Seeing Brian had made his stomach feel like it was shaking, and his heart raced. He didn't know for sure, but he was worried that maybe he was falling in love.

They continued to talk about the antics of the Backstreet Boys on tour over burgers and fries at Orlando's Hard Rock Cafe. They laughed over silly pranks that Brian had been caught up in, and Skyler found that he felt more comfortable as they talked and laughed. He didn't have to worry about what he would say or do, because Brian's very presence kept him captivated. He could talk with Brian like he'd never been able to talk with anyone in his life. He felt closer to Brian than anyone, even Mark.

"I'm flying to LA tomorrow morning," Skyler told him when Brian asked how long he would be in Orlando. "The Oscars are the day after tomorrow, and I promised Madonna that I'd be there in case we win."

"That's right," said Brian. "I forgot that your song was nominated. I really hope you win. You know we're flying back to LA tomorrow too."

"I thought your shows were canceled," he said.

"They are, but we have appearances and interviews," replied Brian. "AJ and Howie were the only ones that really had to fly to Orlando this morning. I came because I knew you were here. Nick ad Kevin just decided they didn't want to be left in LA."

The statement didn't escape Skyler's attention. It made him feel good that Brian had decided to come to Orlando just because he was there. He just tried not to read too much into it as they drove to a video store to rent movies. Brian had invited Skyler to his house to watch a few movies, and Skyler had quickly agreed. He loved spending time with Brian, and he really wanted to take a look at the inside of the two story stone building that Brian lived in with Nick and Kevin. He thought that seeing more of Brian's private world would let him get to know Brian a bit better.

"So where are Kevin and Nick?" asked Skyler when they got to the house.

"Kevin is probably off with Melissa," said Brian, leading Skyler into the living room. "Nick is most likely at Daren's. He spends almost all of his time with Daren when we're home."

"This is really nice," said Skyler, looking around the living room.

There were two over-stuffed cream colored couches and two similar recliners that formed a square in front of the big screen television. A coffee table sat in front of one couch. Skyler saw various issues of magazines on its surface, and he smiled when he saw his own face on the cover of a few. The two end tables held brass lamps with cream colored shades, and a beige shag rug sat in the center of the square on the hardwood floor.

"Thanks," replied Brian. "Kevin is responsible for the decor in this room. I got the dining room and kitchen, and Nick got to decorate the hall. The office was Kevin, and we all decorated our own rooms upstairs."

"Not quite what I expected from three guys," said Skyler. "It's so clean."

"Yeah I'm kind of a neat freak," laughed Brian. "So is Kevin, and we're constantly getting on Nick's case about cleaning up after himself. We have a cleaning lady that comes by three times a week to dust and water plants when we're not home."

"I know all about cleaning ladies," laughed Skyler. "I've been through three since Zack moved out."

"Tell me about Zack," said Brian as they sat down on the couch that faced the television.

"He's a great friend," said Skyler. "I didn't really know him when I asked him to move in with me. Everyone said he was a great guy, and I'd overheard a conversation he had with a friend at the deli where he worked. He was being evicted, and he didn't really have anywhere to go. I just asked him if he wanted the spare room in my apartment in exchange for keeping the place clean while I was touring."

"You know that there was a lot of speculation about you and Zack," said Brian, making Skyler uncomfortable.

"I'm sure there was," he sighed. He wondered when someone would ask about his relationship with Zack, but he hadn't expected Brian to be the one to ask.

"The guys all ask about what happened between you and Zack all of the time," said Brian. "I just keep telling them to mind their own business."

"I don't know why everyone thought anything more than friendship went on between me and Zack," Skyler said a little louder than he'd intended. "It's sad that even other celebrities can only think of something dirty when a guy helps someone out."

"I didn't think it was anything dirty, Sky," said Brian. "I don't think any of the other guys in Backstreet thought so either."

"But you thought we were sleeping together," said Skyler not even understanding why he was getting so upset. "Everyone thought that I was having a sexual relationship with Zack when nothing like that ever happened between us. We're friends, and we're still friends now that he's moved out of the apartment."

"Skyler, calm down," said Brian, putting a hand on his shoulder. "It doesn't matter what anyone thinks. You helped him out when he needed help, and that's a good thing."

"But it doesn't sound so good when people talk about you like that," replied Skyler. "Even if I had been having sex with Zack that would have been my business. It isn't anyone's business who I sleep with."

"No, it isn't," agreed Brian. "I have to admit though, I'm glad that you weren't romantically involved with Zack."

"Why?" asked Skyler, turning to face Brian. This was it, he thought. Brian was finally going to say something about homosexuality that would offend him. His friendship with him would probably be over after he said whatever he was going to say. Skyler prepared himself for the sting, but he was shocked to silence when Brian kissed him.

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

The next chapter will be posted soon.