© 2005-2010 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 17

The press conference was over, and Skyler and Ben were safely back upstairs in Skyler's suite with Jason, the twins and Tabitha. Everything had gone exactly the way that Laura and Clay had planned, and Skyler was satisfied with the questions that were asked along with the answers that he and his father had given the reporters. With any luck, this would end the onslaught. Skyler knew that Tabitha was very uncomfortable with crowds of fans and reporters, and he didn't want to scare her anymore.

"How did it go?" she asked as they came into the living room of the suite.

"Nothing to it," said Ben as he put his arms around her and kissed her. "Skyler handled them like a pro."

"Yes," said Clay. "Skyler is very good at handling the press."

"Well, this isn't the last time that I'm going to have to sit in a press conference," sighed Skyler, slumping down into a chair. "We have to leave soon for Detroit, and then the press will have new questions."

"I'm going with you to Detroit, Skyler," said Ben, turning to face his son. "I want to be there when you and the twins face Claire again."

"What about work?" asked Skyler, but he was already formulating a plan to keep his father and step-mother around him more. He knew that he would have to go back on tour as soon as the new album was released, and he wanted them to go with him.

"I've already called the company," said Ben. "They've agreed to extend my vacation. Tabitha will go back to Denver with Jason, and I'll fly to Detroit with you. There is another matter that I need to clear up in Detroit."

Father and son looked each other in the eye as they both thought of the twins and their paternity. Skyler said a silent prayer that his father would learn that they were his biological children. He knew that Ben wouldn't tell them that he wasn't if that was the case, but it would be so much better if they didn't have to lie to them anymore. Just thinking about it made him hate his mother even more.

For the rest of the day, the family spent quality time together. Jason and the twins played video games in Chad's room while Skyler sat with his parents to talk about his plans for the new album and what he wanted to do when he went on tour. He told Ben that he wanted to hire him to build the sets for each of his shows, and he wanted Tabitha involved in the tour as well. When she admitted that she had accounting knowledge, Skyler asked if she would want to keep records of everything financial for the tour.

That night, he tried to call Brian, but he got no answer. It had been days since he'd spoken to him, and he was starting to wonder what was going on. He hoped that everything was all right with the tour. It wasn't like Brian not to call Skyler every night. He was thinking about calling Kevin if Brian didn't contact him soon. Maybe Kevin could tell him what was going on.

His calls back and forth to Madonna, and Kristy hadn't stopped. Madonna had flown back to New York to finish filming her video, and she wanted to be updated every day as to what was going on between him and his family. Kristy congratulated him on reconnecting with his father, and she told him that the whole gang in New York wished him luck when he faced his mother and step-father.

Jason and Tabitha were both sad to leave them as they all stood, waiting for the flight that would take the two of them back to Denver. Ben and Tabitha said a private goodbye while Jason expressed his wish to remain with Skyler one last time. Skyler hugged him and Tabitha as their flight was called. He stood with his father and the twins and watched them walk through the gate.

"What time is court tomorrow?" asked Ben as they sat down to wait for their own flight to be called.

Skyler was getting nervous, and he knew the twins were as well. He was also still thinking about his phone conversation with Kevin Richardson the night before. He'd thought that Brian would have called him, but when Brian didn't call him, and he couldn't reach him by phone, he'd called Kevin. Kevin had evaded his questions about Brian, but he'd asked about the trial, and he wished him luck. The only thing that he told him about Brian was that he had something heavy on his mind right now. Skyler thought that was another reason he should have called him, but he didn't say anything to Kevin about it. Instead, he talked to Kevin about court and what he was hoping would happen. By the end of the conversation, he felt only slightly better. He was really starting to worry about Brian.

"Nine," he replied. "I'm hoping that it won't last long. I don't want to be in Detroit for weeks. I start filming really soon, and I don't want the filming to be delayed for this."

"What does Barbara have to say? You talked to her last night, right?"

"She says that the case can take as long as two weeks," sighed Skyler. "It could be longer if their lawyer gets the judge to continue it."

"I can't stay for too long," said Ben. "I'll have to get back to work. I'm going to talk to them about going to work for you once you go on tour. I just hope they let me come back to them after your tour is over."

"If they won't, then just go into business for yourself, Dad," said Skyler. "You'd get all sorts of business with my name on your resume. Just think about that."

"You're probably right," laughed Ben. "We'll deal with that when the time comes. For now, I want to talk about the twins."

"You're going to start digging in Detroit, aren't you?" asked Skyler.

"I've already found out that we share the same blood type," he said. "What I'm trying to find out is if Chuck has the same blood type as we all do."

"I don't know anything about that," admitted Skyler. "I don't even know what Mom's blood type is."

"Hers is A negative," replied Ben. "Ours is O positive. Mine, Jason's, yours and both of the twins."

"Well then if Chuck isn't O positive then the twins are your children?" Skyler asked quietly, so the twins couldn't hear him.

"That would be the obvious possibility," replied Ben. "The only way to be absolutely certain would be a blood test."

"That would mean telling the twins," sighed Skyler. "I really don't want to do that."

"Neither do I," admitted Ben. "I really hope that they are my children. I already feel like their father, and it makes me proud to hear them call me dad."

"We just have to keep thinking positive," said Skyler. "And we have to keep quiet around the twins."

"So, let's talk about music," said Ben, changing the subject. "Have you written anything new?"

"I've written six songs," said Skyler. "Two of them won't even be choices for my album, though. I wrote those with the movie in mind. I'm going to let Sonny hear them once I record them."

"When does filming actually start?" asked Ben.

"The second, I think," said Skyler. "It was supposed to start last week, but two of the actors were still filming other projects."

"Are you excited about the movie?"

"Totally," laughed Skyler. "I can't wait to act again. I actually miss it."

Their flight was called, and the four of them, along with Brent, made their way to the gate. The twins still hadn't said anything, and Skyler knew that they were even more nervous about confronting Chuck than he was. He hoped that everything went their way in Detroit. He didn't think the twins could really handle it if the judge found Chuck innocent of the charges.

They were all silent throughout most of the flight. The twins were both dreading seeing their mother and step-father again. Cassie was fighting tears as she remembered all of the things that had happened while she lived with them, and Chad was just angry. He wanted to know why his mother had allowed all of those things to happen to all of them. Why had she taken their father from them and let Chuck hurt them? He wanted to tell her how much he hated her for all that had happened. It wasn't that he thought she'd care that he hated her. He just really wanted to be able to tell her that.

Skyler just wanted all of it to be over. He wanted to be done with court, and he didn't want to have to worry about his mother or Chuck ever again. He wished that it would all just go away. He felt better having his father with him, but in truth, he was very nervous about facing his mother and step-father again. Unlike Chad, Skyler didn't care why it had all happened. In his mind, he believed that his mother was just a rotten woman. He believed that was the reason that all of it had happened. That was why she'd made sure that his father could have nothing to do with him for so long. It was why she'd allowed Chuck to hurt them over and over again, and it was why she did nothing to stop it. She hadn't been innocent when it came to hurting her children, either. Sure, she'd never hit them like Chuck had, but her words had cut them better than any knife could have. He hated her for everything she'd done and allowed to be done to them over the years, and he wanted her to pay for it.

When the plane landed, they were more nervous than ever. Laura and Barbara were waiting for them when they came through the gate. Barbara smiled at them, and Skyler tried to smile back, but he didn't think he was successful. She told them that she'd already taken care of the hotel, and they piled into Laura's rented SUV and headed out.

"Everything will be fine, Skyler," said Barbara as they drove down the streets of Detroit. "We'll present our case first, and then we'll hear from your mother and step-father. I have the list of witnesses, and they haven't provided any for their defense. This is going to be over before you know it."

"Who is testifying on our side?" asked Skyler.

"A few doctors, one nurse, and four teachers will be testifying for us," she said. "Doctors will discuss injuries that you and your siblings sustained over the years, and teachers will talk about bruises that they saw on each of you throughout the years you were all in school here."

At the hotel, Skyler called Madonna to let her know that they were checked in. She told him that she would be there in the morning at six. She also told him that Clay was coming with her along with Niki and Kristy. He was happy for the support, and just hearing her voice calmed him down a little bit. He really was getting very close to Madonna.

"Still no word from Brian?" she asked.

"None," he sighed. "I think its over between us, M."

"Don't be so sure," she said. "Kevin said something heavy was going on, right?"

"That's what he said," replied Skyler. "Don't you think that Brian would have wanted to talk with me if something that bad was going on in his life? I mean, he said he wished he could be here with me for this."

"I don't know what's going through his head, Skyler," she said. "Believe me, if I could find out, I would."

"Thanks," he said.

Ten minutes after his phone call with Madonna ended, someone knocked on the door to the suite. He looked at his father and then at Brent as Brent got up to answer the door. Security wasn't supposed to let anyone near their suite, and he had no idea who could have gotten past them. If it was a reporter, he was going to scream. He was shocked and pleasantly surprised to see Kevin Richardson and AJ McLean at the door. His spirits dropped a bit when he realized that Brian wasn't with them, though.

"Hey, kiddo," said Kevin as he came into the room. "We threw a fit until they let us fly out here to be with you."

"Hey, Sky," said AJ. The two sat down on either side of him on the couch.

"Thanks for coming, guys," he said, trying to smile. "Where's Brian?"

"That asshole is probably off somewhere with Leighanne," spat AJ, and Skyler's eyes grew large.

"Leighanne?" he asked, trying very hard not to get upset. He really didn't need this. He was already a wreck over being in Detroit again.

"Skyler, I'm sorry," said Kevin softly. "Brian should have told you this himself, but he's been seeing Leighanne for a while now. I tried to make him talk to you the other night, Skyler. I'm sorry about this."

"I'm completely faithful," he could hear Brian saying in his head, and he was instantly pissed off.

"When was he planning to tell me about this?" he demanded, looking from AJ to Kevin and back.

"Look," said AJ, "we've been after him for some time now to tell you about Leighanne. I even threatened to tell you myself."

"This wasn't the best way for you to find out," said Kevin, looking at Skyler with sympathy in his eyes. Skyler wanted to scream. "I'm so sorry, Sky."

"I can't believe I fell for his bull shit," Skyler said a little louder than he'd intended. He'd completely forgotten that his father was sitting across the room. "How long?"

"A few weeks now," said Kevin. "He met her last year, and they've been writing letters back and forth ever since. She came to Texas to be with him three weeks ago."

"That's just perfect," spat Skyler. "Three weeks ago, we were still calling each other every night. All that time, my boyfriend had a girlfriend."

He heard his father gasp, and then he realized what he'd done. He'd just outed himself, and he couldn't take it back. He looked at his father for a second, and he didn't like what he saw on his face. Laura and Barbara both looked embarrassed, and the twins looked angry. He sighed and slumped back against the back of the couch.

"I'm sorry, Sky," Kevin said again.

"Let me get this straight," said Ben, shifting his gaze from Skyler to Kevin. "One of your band mates was my son's boyfriend, and he's been cheating on him for weeks? None of you thought it was a good idea to tell him about it until the day before he has to face his mother and step-father in court?"

Skyler was shocked at the heat in his father's voice. He'd expected his father to flip out over the fact that he was gay, but he wasn't prepared for him to be angry about them not telling him about Brian cheating sooner. He didn't know what to think of that. Did his father accept his sexuality? Had he suspected all along? He couldn't think straight.

"Mr. Thomas," said Kevin, "we've been trying to get Brian to talk to Skyler about this since it started. We didn't think it was right for us to tell him. We thought Brian should tell him."

"This Brian," said Ben, leaning forward, "you're his cousin, right?"

"Yes, sir," said Kevin. "I've tried very hard to get him to talk to Sky. Every night I've told him to call him."

"I can't believe this," Ben said with a sigh.

"He's an ass, Mr. Thomas," said AJ. "He should have come clean with Skyler when he first invited Leighanne to Texas."

"He's an ass, all right," spat Ben. "Skyler, don't worry about this Brian. He wasn't worth your time from what I can see. You boys did the right thing, telling Sky about this."

"We'd better get back to our room," said Kevin as he and AJ stood. "Sky, we'll be at the courthouse tomorrow morning. Call us later if you want."

"Thanks for coming," Skyler replied, standing and walking to the door with them. His mind was reeling. He wasn't looking forward to the discussion he knew he was about to have with his father.

"I'm so sorry, Sky," Kevin said again.

"Thank you," said Skyler. "I'll talk to you guys a little later."

He went back to the couch after he'd closed the door with Kevin and AJ on the other side. His father was looking at him, and Skyler wanted to sink into the couch until he disappeared. He couldn't believe he'd been so stupid; both about Brian and shouting out the fact that he was gay in front of his father. To hear about Brian cheating the day before he had to be in court to face his mother and step-father made it all even worse.

"How long?" asked Ben. "How long have you and Brian been together?"

"A little more than a month," said Skyler. "And it seems that for most of that time, Brian has been seeing Leighanne."

"Well, I guess its better that you found out now instead of finding out six months from now," said Ben. "Don't look so shocked. So you're gay. I don't care about that. You're my son, and I love you. Being gay doesn't change who you are, and you don't have to worry about Tabitha and Jason, either."

"They won't care?" he asked, still gawking at his father as if he'd never seen him before.

"Well, I probably shouldn't be telling you this, and you all have to promise not to say anything about it to anyone," said Ben, looking at the twins and then back at Skyler. "Jason is gay."

"What?" gasped Skyler. Of all the things that he expected his father to say, that wasn't even on the list.

"Like I said, don't let him find out that I told you," warned Ben. "He's been worried about what all of you would think about it."

"We don't care," said Chad. "It didn't make any difference to us when we found out about Sky, and it doesn't make any difference to us now that we know about Jason."

"Do you share your twin's thoughts?" Ben asked Cassie, who was still staring at him with her mouth open.

"Of course," she said immediately. "It doesn't matter to us at all."

They were all silent after that. Each of the had their own thoughts to kick around in their minds. Skyler was just shocked that his father was so accepting. He would never have dreamed that Jason was gay. The boy was only fourteen years old! He shouldn't even be thinking about sex. That thought made him blush as he thought back to when he was fourteen. He'd had a crush on Peter even then.

After lunch, and a long conversation between Ben and his children about acceptance, Ben excused himself. He left the room as they watched him go. Skyler wondered where he was going, but he had a pretty good idea. He thought he was going to the hospital to try and find out Chuck's blood type. He had no idea how he planned to obtain that information. He just hoped that Chuck didn't share their blood type. That would be another relief, and it would mean one less secret.

By the time Ben returned, Skyler was ready to scratch his skin off of all his body. He was so nervous about what his father had learned, and he was worried that maybe he had learned that Chuck was actually the twins' father. That was something he really wasn't prepared to accept, and he had no idea what he would say to the twins if either of them ever learned the truth.

"I went to see your mother," said Ben while he and Skyler were getting ready for dinner. Ben had insisted upon coming back to the hotel that they go out for dinner instead of ordering room service.

"They let you see her?" asked Skyler, pausing as he buttoned his shirt.

"They asked her if she wanted to see me, and I was surprised when she said she did," he replied. "I asked her about the twins, and she put her head down. She said that she supposed I was going to sue her now."

"Sue her?" asked Skyler in confusion. "What would you sue her for?"

"Defamation of character, for one thing," replied Ben. "Lying in the divorce for another. She was pregnant when we got divorced after all. She confirmed that the twins are my children, and admitted that she had never wanted me to find out about them."

"Do you believe her?" asked Skyler, wanting so desperately to believe.

"She said that I could have a blood test if I didn't believe her," he said. "Not that she'd have to give consent at this point."

"So they really are your children," sighed Skyler. "That lifts a weight off of my shoulders."

"Mine, too," said Ben. "But it also makes me even more angry at her for keeping them from me."

"You don't know how happy I am to hear that they really are my full brother and sister," sighed Skyler as he finished buttoning his shirt and tucked it in.

Ben stared at the twins all through dinner. Chad noticed, but he didn't say anything. They talked mostly about court and how Skyler was feeling about Brian. He admitted that he was upset about Brian, but he assured them that court was more important than worrying about Brian Littrell. He supposed that he would be more upset once everything was over concerning his mother, but for now, court was what was weighing heavier on his mind.

He called Madonna later that night to tell her what Kevin and AJ had told him about Brian and Leighanne. She was furious over the entire thing. She kept saying that she couldn't believe it, but by the end of their conversation, she told Skyler that she had suspected that something like that was going on. He admitted that he'd been completely clueless about it, and that made him even more angry.

To his surprise, Kevin called a little while after he'd hung up from talking to Madonna. He told him again how sorry he was, and Skyler thought that if Kevin apologized for Brian one more time, he'd scream. They talked about court, and Skyler was happy for the change in conversation. He told Kevin that he was very worried about what would go on in court, and he hoped that the press wasn't permitted in the courtroom.

He had trouble sleeping that night, and he wasn't surprised when both of the twins came into his room to talk. They told him that they were really nervous about seeing their mother and Chuck the next day, and Skyler admitted that he was, too. They talked until they were all three fighting to keep their eyes open, and Skyler didn't have the heart to kick them out of his room. The three of them fell asleep side by side around one that morning.

"Don't you three just look cozy," said Niki, waking them up at six-thirty the next morning.

"Hey, Niki," said Skyler with a smile.

"Hey, Fame Grabber," she said, smiling back at him. "M and Kristy are in the living room."

"Let us get up and get ready," he said with a yawn as the twins started to stretch beside him. "Won't take us long."

He was surprised to see Kevin and AJ sitting with his father, Madonna, Niki and Kristy when he came out of his room, showered and dressed. He smiled at them all as he sat down to eat the fruit that his father handed him. The twins came out of their rooms shortly afterward, and conversations started, filling the room with chatter as they ate their breakfast and tried to pretend that they weren't nervous.

They left in four cars at eight to be at the courthouse early. Skyler and the twins rode with Laura and their father. Barbara was waiting for them when they arrived. She quickly told them what she wanted them to say, and then they went into the courtroom to sit down and wait for the trial to start. Skyler was shaking inside as he sat there, waiting for his mother and Chuck to be brought in. They were being tried together. Barbara had made sure of that to lessen the amount of time that Skyler and the twins had to remain in Detroit.

Things began to happen very fast after they were all seated. Their mother and Chuck were brought into the courtroom by police officers. Chuck was in shackles, and their mother was in handcuffs. Skyler tried not to stare at them, but he couldn't help himself. Chuck looked back at him with pure hatred in his eyes, and even after everything, Skyler felt himself inwardly shrink back from that look. He tore his gaze away from the hateful man and stared straight ahead.

Once the witnesses were called, Skyler listened as doctors he barely remembered told the judge about his broken arm, the time when two of his teeth had been knocked out and the time when he'd been admitted for stomach injuries. Teachers talked about bruises on all three of them over the years, and they told the judge that they'd called family service many times, but nothing had ever been done about it.

Skyler fought tears as he listened to his brother and sister answering questions on the stand. Barbara took both of them through each year of their lives that they could remember, and Skyler nearly lost the battle with tears when Cassie started to talk about what life was like for her once he'd gone to college. He was surprised that his own voice didn't shake while he answered questions himself. He didn't even get angry when the other lawyers questioned him and tried to make him sound like a liar.

Court recessed for lunch, and Skyler sat with his family and friends in a diner across from the courthouse, listening to Barbara tell them that they'd done very well. She was very confident that everything would go their way when the judge made his decision. Their mother and Chuck had both waived their right to a jury trial, so that made things a little easier according to Barbara. She said that she was fairly certain that the judge would render a verdict that very day. Skyler hoped she was right.

In the courtroom again, Skyler tried not to look at Chuck while his lawyer asked him questions. Chuck tried to make it sound like they'd lied about him and that he'd never so much as punished them for anything in their lives. Barbara tore him down, though. He continued to deny everything until she asked him about the day that four teachers had seen him pull Skyler from school, slapping him in the face all the way to the car. Then he'd just stopped talking at all.

Their mother shocked them completely. She didn't lie about anything, exactly. She just tried to blame it all on Chuck. She admitted that she did nothing to stop him from hurting them, but she claimed that she was afraid of Chuck. Skyler stared at her with open disbelief as she talked. Barbara tripped her up on several statements, though.

"Claire O'Malley," said the judge when he'd announced that he was ready to render his verdict, "I find your testimony not only unbelievable, but infuriating as well. You sat by and watched as your husband abused your children, broke bones, teeth and their spirits on more occasions than you even admitted to in this courtroom. I find you guilty of all charges, Mrs. O'Malley, and I sentence you to three years imprisonment for your crimes.

"Charles O'Malley," the judge said, turning his gaze on Chuck, "I simply can not fathom why you were not arrested sooner for your abusive actions toward the Thomas children. I'm very upset with the Michigan Department of Family Service. They are not on trial in my courtroom, however, you are. I find you guilty of all charges as well, Mr. O'Malley, and I sentence you to five years imprisonment. This sentence it to be served concurrently with the sentence imposed by me six weeks ago."

The spectators murmured as the judge imposed Chuck's sentence, and Skyler breathed a sigh of relief. He couldn't believe it was over so quickly, but he was happy that he didn't have to look at them for another day. He couldn't wait to get the twins back to New York. It was finally over. He felt like standing up and cheering.

"Skyler Thomas," said the judge, startling him, "I commend you for coming forward when you did, and I believe that you suffered greatly growing up. You have my deepest sympathy for having grown up with these two for parents. I can only hope that you and your siblings can find a way to come to terms with the past and look to the future. Court is adjourned."

Skyler left he courtroom with his arms around his brother and sister. The twins were both crying as they left the courtroom, and their father had his hands on Skyler's shoulders to give him support. Barbara told them how proud of them she was for how they handled themselves in the courtroom as they walked outside. None of them were prepared for the press that was waiting for them, though.

Brent, along with Backstreet security, ushered them through the throng of reporters that shouted questions at Skyler and Ben. Neither man said anything to the press as they hurried across the street to the parking lot and into the waiting SUV. The reporters followed them, but security didn't let them get close. They had to wait for police officers to back the press away from the vehicles before they could leave the parking lot.

"That was intense," said Ben when they were driving down the street and away from the reporters.

"I should have known it would happen," sighed Skyler.

"Don't beat yourself up," replied his father. "You had a lot on your mind, Sky. Besides, we survived it."

"I'm just glad that its finally over, and I can go back to New York," he said, resting his head on the headrest of his seat and sighing again. "I hate Detroit."

"I need to be getting back to Tabitha and Jason, too," said Ben. "I'll see about getting a flight out tomorrow."

"We'll probably be flying back to New York in the morning," said Skyler. "I can't wait to be back in my apartment, and Sonny will be so happy to hear that I can start filming."

"What will the twins be doing while you're filming?" asked Ben, and Skyler turned in his seat to look at his father.

"Chad will be recording his album," he said slowly. "Cassie will probably spend time with me on the set. Why?"

"Well, I was thinking that they could come and spend some time with me," Ben replied carefully. He didn't want to upset Skyler, but he really wanted to spend more time getting to know the twins.

"I'll discuss that with them, but I'm fairly sure that they'll want to continue living in New York, Dad," Skyler said, trying hard not to get upset. He understood that his father wanted to be with the twins, but so did he. For so long, he was all they had, and they were all he had. He wasn't sure he could stand letting his father take them away from him.

"I wasn't suggesting that they move to Denver," Ben said quickly. "I just thought it would be nice for them to come and spend some time with us."

"Well, Chad will be recording," said Skyler. "You can talk to Cassie about it, though. Maybe after I get done filming, Chad and I will come to Denver for a while, too."

"That would be nice," replied Ben. "I'd like having all of my children under the same roof for at least a few days."

They were both silent all the way back to the hotel after that. Both of them were thinking about the twins. Ben seriously didn't want to remove them from Skyler's care, and he hoped his son didn't think that he was suggesting that he wasn't taking care of them properly. The twins were happy and very well adjusted considering the lifestyle they'd been thrown into after leaving behind a lifestyle that was terrifying at best. He commended Skyler for how happy the twins were. It was clear to him that they adored their brother, and he would never try to come between them in any way. He decided that he would talk to Cassie about spending some time in Denver, but he wouldn't push.

Skyler was worried that perhaps the twins would actually want to go and live with their father. He knew that if he was their age, he'd want to live with him. He didn't know what the twins would say if Ben asked them to move to Denver. In New York, Chad didn't even have his own room. Skyler was trying to remedy that, but for now the boy had to share with him. It wasn't the best situation, but it was all they could do without throwing him on the couch. He really worried about what the twins would say when they talked to their father again.

When they got back to the hotel, Skyler wondered when Ben would start talking to the twins about going to Denver for a while. He was actually afraid of them talking about it. He tried not to be, but he couldn't help it. The thought of being without them, even for a little while, wasn't something that he could handle. How would he handle it if they actually moved in with their father? He nearly panicked when they went shopping with Ben as soon as they got back to the hotel.

"What's eating you?" asked Madonna when they were alone for a little while later. "You've been very quiet. I'd have thought you'd be happy with the ruling and the sentencing."

"I am," he sighed. "My father wants the twins to come to Denver for a while."

"That's a good idea, Sky," she said, and then she thought about it more. "Wait, does he want them to move to Denver?"

"He said he doesn't," sighed Skyler. "He said he just wants to spend some time with them. I don't know. I'm just worried about what they'll say about it, I guess."

"Not ready to let go of them, huh?" she asked, smiling.

"Absolutely not," he replied. "They're like the best things in my life."

"And it shows," she informed him. "You should see the way you look at them."

"Skyler, we're all booked for an eight AM flight back to New York tomorrow morning," said Laura, coming into the suite. She stopped when she saw the serious looks on Skyler and Madonna's faces. "Did I interrupt something?"

"Not at all," said Skyler, flashing his patent smile at her. "Thank you for getting us the flight. Are my father and the twins back yet?"

"Not yet," she said. "I don't expect them back for a while. I did tell them that we were having dinner in the banquet hall tonight, though. I'm sure they'll be back in time to get ready for that."

"Thanks," he said.

"I'll see you at dinner, Sky," she said, turning to leave.

"So, let's talk about Brian," said Madonna when Laura was gone. "I know that has to be eating at you."

"It is," he admitted. "I'm more angry with myself over it, though. I'm the one who believed his lies."

"You didn't know any better," she replied. "I believed him, too."

The next chapter will be posted soon.