© 2005-2010 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 56

Ben knelt down, taking Skyler's hand in both of his. He was so happy. His prayers had been answered. Skyler was awake. A single tear fell from the corner of Skyler's eye as he looked up at his father. He tried to form words to express his grief and remorse, but he couldn't seem to make his mouth work. Finally he breathed, "Baby."

"The baby isn't here right now, Sky . . . ."

"Baby . . . alive?" Skyler managed before sobs wracked him.

Horror washed over Ben as he realized what it was that Skyler was asking. He wanted to get Tabitha to go back to the house and bring Preston back with her, but he couldn't leave Skyler. He gripped his son's hand as he watched him cry and sob. It killed him to see this anguish in him. He had to make him understand that Preston was alive and well.

"Shh, Sky," he said. "Preston wasn't in the car with us that night. It was just you, me, Jeff and Kaleb. Jeff and Kaleb are fine. I'm fine and you will be too."

"Alive?" Skyler asked afraid to even hope.

"He's fine, Skyler," replied Ben soothingly. "Niki's at the house with him now."

It took more convincing than Ben liked but he finally got Skyler to sleep. It hadn't occurred to him to get a nurse or anyone else for that matter. He supposed he shouldn't have let Skyler go to sleep until after a doctor examined him. He left the room quickly to find a nurse. He was both sad and happy that his son was alive and awake.

As the day went on everyone who visited and talked with Skyler remarked about his speech. Ben finally got to talk to the doctor about it shortly before supper time. He was worried that Skyler was suffering from brain damage. He hoped that the doctor would calm his fear but Skyler's speech was getting worse as the day went on. They also noticed that Skyler never gripped their hands when they gripped his. This also caused Ben to worry.

"I'm afraid we just don't know yet if his speech problems will persist, Mr. Thomas," said the doctor softly. "The fact that he can't grip things tightly worries us quite a bit as well. We simply won't know anything until we've run more tests."

"What kind of tests?" Ben asked already worried about what the tests would show.

"There are a few I'd like to run," said the doctor. "I'll schedule them for tomorrow morning and we'll get some answers."

He refused to say more so all Ben could do was share the information with his family. Everyone was worried about what the tests would reveal but everyone tried to be strong for Skyler. Yet the next day as Skyler was taken for tests, Ben couldn't help fearing the worst. As time went on with no word from anyone he began to believe the worst. He found his way to the hospital chapel and decided to have a conversation with God.

"Why, God?" he asked, looking up at the crucifix on the wall of the chapel. "If you were going to leave him like this, why did you wake him up at all? What is he going to do now? This will rob him of his career. He'll never be able to take care of his son this way. Why did you do this to my boy?"

"I . . . Dad . . ." said Skyler's voice from behind Ben, making him cringe. How much had he heard? "I . . . alive. Happy."

"Oh, Skyler," cried Ben, twisting in the pew to take his son into his arms, cursing himself for letting him hear what he'd said. He got to his knees in front of Skyler's wheelchair and sobbed as he held him. "I never thought for a minute that you weren't happy to be alive, son. I just can't understand why God would do any of this to you. I'm so sorry for making you think that I wasn't happy to just have you alive and with us."

Skyler put his hand on his father's shoulder and pushed him back so that he could look in his eyes. Yes he had terrible trouble forming words and he couldn't stand or walk without assistance. Yes he was terrified for the future and what all of this would mean to his career but he had his family and his life. He couldn't be angry or un-accepting of the gift of life that had been bestowed on him.

"I . . ." he sighed in frustration as he tried to convey in words what was in his heart. "Live . . . not unhappy."

"I know you're not unhappy," Ben sobbed. "I just . . ."

"Sad . . .me?" Skyler interrupted. Ben could see the frustration on his son's face as he tried to say what was on his mind. "No . . . pity."

"I'm sorry, Skyler," moaned Ben as he put his head in his son's lap. He sobbed harder as he felt Skyler's hand on his head.

"I'm sorry, but I have to get Skyler back to his room," said a nurse, breaking up the sadness and crying. She waited for Ben to compose himself and stand before she wheeled Skyler from the chapel. Ben followed them back to the elevator still trying to get himself under control.

They met Tabitha, Jason, Chad and Cassie just outside of Skyler's room. Skyler smiled at his family as he was wheeled past them and into his room. There was a male nurse inside the room waiting for them. He helped Skyler get back into bed before his family was permitted inside the room. They assembled around his bed and gave hugs and kisses as they told him how thankful they were that he was awake and with them again after so long. They all got quiet and paid close attention when Dr. Brenner entered the room.

"Hello everyone," said the doctor as he held up the chart. "I have the results of some of the tests we conducted today. Skyler, you'll be happy to know that you aren't suffering from brain damage. From what we can tell your brain is merely recovering from the trauma. Your speech should improve over time. As for your motor problems, I'd say that with therapy you'll be walking around pretty soon as well."

There was a collective sigh of relief from the family as Skyler smiled up at Dr. Brenner. He was so happy to hear that his brain wasn't damaged and that he'd be walking and talking normally soon. He'd tried not to let it show but he was very scared about what was happening to him. He still couldn't remember the night of the accident at all, but he now remembered being at the house. He remembered that he'd slept with his infant son soundly asleep beside him in his new house.

"As for your memory of the accident, I'm afraid that's likely gone for good," said Dr. Brenner. "Most trauma victims lose a bit of their memory surrounding the event that caused the trauma. It's completely normal."

Speech and physical therapy began the very next morning. Skyler was taken to the second floor for his speech therapy almost seconds after he'd finished his breakfast. His family waited in the waiting room with his friends while he was downstairs for two hours. While they waited, Justin and Lance returned with the latest issue of "Rolling Stone Magazine". Lance explained that it was the early issue they usually sent to the stars on the cover of the current issue. This issue had Skyler's smiling face on the cover.

Skyler smiled when he returned to his room and his father handed him the magazine. Under his face on the cover were the words, "The Prince Of Pop". They had a great late morning together before Skyler was again taken to the second floor for physical therapy. He'd smiled at everyone but hadn't attempted to say a word while he spent time with them between therapy appointments.

This continued for a week. Skyler spent at least an hour in speech therapy each morning and then another two hours in physical therapy in the afternoons. By the end of the week, Skyler was talking with complete sentences again and he could get himself in and out of his wheelchair. He wasn't walking yet but he was optimistic about getting on his feet.

Preston was brought to the hospital every single day. He stayed until Ben and Tabitha returned to the house with him at night. Ben and Tabitha both traveled with three bodyguards and took severe steps to ensure that the press never got pictures of Preston. The press was still swarming the hospital as well as the estate.

Jackie and Harold Littrell were now staying at the estate as well. Jackie and Tabitha had become very close friends over the time that Skyler had been in the hospital. The two women took care of Preston and basically cooked food to bring up for everyone in the waiting room as well as Skyler. Jackie had said that Skyler would never recover without home cooked meals.

Lynn Harless had made several visits to both Skyler and his family. She'd spent time shopping with Jackie and Tabitha and had many questions for Laura and Clay about Sky High. It seemed that Nsync wasn't doing well with the rift between Justin and JC and the others had unofficially taken sides. Lance and Joey were both with Justin in his conviction that JC was wrong in the way things had happened between him and Skyler while Chris stood beside JC. Lynn had told Tabitha confidentially that Nsync wouldn't last much longer. This was news that Tabitha kept to herself, but she believed that it would become rumor soon if Lynn continued to talk with Clay and Laura about joining the Sky High team and bringing Justin along with her.

The same day that the "Rolling Stone" issue hit the stands Dr. Brenner began to talk about releasing Skyler from the hospital. The family was thrilled about taking him home but Skyler didn't want to go home. He was still leery of the press and wanted nothing to do with them while he was down. He all but refused to leave the hospital. They discussed hotels but again he'd said the press would find him. There seemed to be no end in sight to his fear of facing the press.

"I have a solution to Skyler's problem," said Jackie Littrell as she and Tabitha sat at the house later that same day. Tabitha had told Jackie exactly what Skyler had said and how he felt. She'd also told her friend that she couldn't blame him. She was still scared of the press herself. Now with Skyler hurt they were also seeking out Jason. That scared her most of all.

"Oh Jackie," she said as she transferred Preston from her arms to her shoulder and began to pat his little back to burp him. "If you know of anything that can solve this problem for Skyler I'd be so happy."

"He can come to Lexington and stay with us," said Jackie. "Harold won't mind at all I assure you. He and Preston can come and stay as long as needed for him to get back on his feet. I know several people in the medical field at home that will be discreet. It's perfect actually. Brian and Kevin are rarely ever home and when they are the press never bothers them."

Tabitha thought about what she'd said. It was a good idea with only one flaw that she could see. She and Ben couldn't be there with him. That also meant that Chad couldn't be there. If Chad couldn't be there then what about Cassie? Would she stay in Orlando with her family or follow her older brother to Lexington? She supposed she should discuss it with all of them before she started worrying about where Cassie would go. Without even knowing what Skyler had to say about it there was no point in worrying about details.

So the next day as Skyler spent time with his son between therapy sessions she told them all what Jackie had come up with. She was happy that no one said anything until she'd told them exactly what the two of them had discussed. Even after she was finished they were silent for a little bit as they all looked at Skyler. She wondered if his previous relationship with Brian Littrell would weigh on his decision. It really was a perfect solution if they could get Skyler and the baby to Lexington without anyone knowing what was happening.

"I'll think about that," he said after a while. "I need to discuss this with Jackie and Harold. And Brian."

"Well you can discuss it with all three of them this evening," said Tabitha. "I know for a fact that Jackie and Harold will both be here tonight and Brian is in the waiting room with AJ and Nick right now."

That brought the discussion in the room to a halt. Skyler changed the conversation by asking things about Preston. He'd been talking to a lawyer about the adoption, but he was still leery of actually pressing for it at this stage. His paranoia where the press was involved was impenetrable. She was actually starting to worry about him in that regard. She'd discussed it with Ben several times. He'd of course said that Skyler had every reason to feel a bit paranoid about the press. After all members of the press had nearly killed him.

"I was told you wanted to see me, Sky," said Brian Littrell not long after Skyler was back in his room after physical therapy. Skyler looked the attractive blond in the eye and saw that he was nervous. He didn't like that. He'd forgiven Brian and really wanted to be his friend again.

"Yeah," said Skyler, patting the side of his bed. "Come sit."

Brian looked at him uncertainly for a second as if he were debating on just crossing the room to get the chair. He finally sighed and came to sit on the edge of Skyler's bed. "Thanks," he said.

"I wanted to talk to you about something your mother offered me," said Skyler. "I still want to talk to your parents but I thought I should start with you."

"Is this about Mom telling Tabitha that you could recover in Lexington?" Brian asked, doing his best to look Skyler in the eye. His mother had discussed it with him the night she'd made the offer. He agreed that it was a safe haven for Skyler but he didn't know how comfortable either of them would be if and when Brian visited.

"Yes it is," said Skyler. "Bri, I don't want you and I to be like this anymore. I want us to at least try to be the friends that we were before we got together. If my staying in Lexington will make you uncomfortable I won't do it."

"I'd love it if we could friends, Sky," said Brian, smiling when he heard Skyler use the nickname he'd called him by so many times in the past. "It won't make me uncomfortable for you to be at my family home at all as long as you won't be uncomfortable when I visit you."

"I want you to visit me," said Skyler quickly. "Bri, if we're going to be friends we have to talk and spend time together."

"Well we'll be in the studio for a while," said Brian. "Kev's there now actually. We're trying to get the album recorded. After the tour fiasco it really needs to come out soon."

Backstreet had canceled more than fifteen shows in their tour to be in Orlando when Skyler was hurt. Skyler felt bad about it and he knew that they had to be taking a bunch of flack from The Firm for canceling their shows. He didn't say anything about that though. He was just happy that Brian was at least considering visiting him in Lexington.

"Well you'll come home when you can," he said. "We'll do some talking. I'd also like to meet Leighanne."

"She'd like to meet you, too," replied Brian with a huge grin. "She loves your music."

"Does she know?" Skyler asked not voicing the end of that question. He still wasn't comfortable talking about their past relationship.

"Yes she does," Brian sighed. "I've been completely honest with her about everything. She's fine with it because she knows I love her."

"Is she going to be fine with us trying to rebuild our friendship?" he asked, thinking that he wouldn't have been fine if he were in her shoes.

"Yeah," said Brian, nodding. "I don't think it will be a problem as long as we include her a lot."

"Then that's what we'll do," said Skyler, smiling.

"Thanks, Sky," Brian said softly as the two looked at each other. "This means a lot."

"To me too," said Skyler.

The next day Kurt Loder arrived at the hospital with an MTV camera crew. The hospital wasn't happy about it but Clay talked with the administrator for nearly three hours about what was happening. Skyler had decided to let them tape a statement to the fans. He wouldn't consent to any interviews even though he respected Kurt completely. Skyler was taking no chances that anything he said in an interview could be twisted or changed to make him look bad. Clay had even gotten MTV to sign a contract stating that there would be no tweaking of any kind done to the tape once it had been recorded. Skyler would have a copy before it hit the air and if any changes were made, Sky High would file a lawsuit against MTV.

That made things a bit tense between MTV and Sky High. Things had been pretty smooth between the two entities with information flowed freely between the two. It seemed that with these stipulations in place things would change drastically very quickly. Skyler didn't like that but he still wouldn't relent. For the time being anything done with any other company would be done his way or not at all.

"Hello Skyler," said Kurt, and Skyler instantly caught the fact that Kurt had used his full first name instead of his favored "Sky" when they were talking off camera. He sighed as he thought about it.

"Thank you for coming," he said, opting to use no form of address at all. "I wanted to let the fans know that I am alive and awake. This was the best way that I could think of to do it."

"Of course," said Kurt. "We'll set up the camera and get you fitted with a mic and you can give your statement. We'll dupe the tape in the van before we leave and an assistant will make sure that Clay has a copy in his hands before we leave."

"All right," Skyler sighed again. He hated that his friendship with Kurt was in jeopardy over all of this. He was about to say something when Kurt left the room.

They set up the camera and fitted him with a mic. With the camera turned away from Skyler they performed a test to make sure that everything was connected and ready. Even the cameramen were standoffish with Skyler. In fact, they never said anything. A make-up artist came in to do Skyler's make up and then he was all set to make his statement.

"Ready in three, two, one," said a cameraman before pointing at Skyler.

"Hello everyone," he said. "I'm making this statement to let my fans know that I'm alive and well. I'm awake and recovering. I want to thank all of you so much for you gifts and cards wishing me well. It means a lot to me to read them. I want to also point out that I'm only down. I'm not beat. I will return to my career as soon as I can. I'll be away for a while but I won't be gone long. Thank you."

"And cut," said the cameraman. A second later one of the assistants came to remove the microphone and Skyler watched as they disconnected the camera and put everything away. They filed out of the room without so much as a word. Skyler just shook his head.

"How are you feeling?" asked Tabitha as she and Jackie Littrell came into the room after everyone had left.

"Tired and disgusted," replied Skyler. "But I'm happy to see you."

Tabitha came over to hug him and said, "I'm happy just to have you awake, sweetie."

"You look good, Skyler," said Jackie as she came over to shake his hand.

"It's the make-up," he laughed. "I talked to Brian for a while last night."

"Oh?" Jackie said, accepting the chair that Tabitha had brought over to her so she could sit next to Skyler's bed.

"Yes, Ma'am," he said with a smile. "We talked about my staying in Lexington with you and your husband while I recover. I wanted to thank you for extending the offer."

"You're completely welcome, Skyler," she said with a smile. "So can we expect you?"

"I was told that I could bring Preston . . ."

"Of course you can," Jackie interrupted. "I wouldn't have it any other way. While you're in therapy I'll look after the little dear for you."

"I wanted to ask if Cassie could come with me as well," he said. "I don't want to burden your family any more than necessary and with at least one member of my family there with me I can have a little help."

"Cassie talked to me this morning," replied Jackie. "We'd be delighted to have the three of you stay with us. Harold is already making arrangements. He flew back to Lexington this morning."

"Well then I guess we should let the doctor know what we're doing," said Skyler with a smile. He really was grateful to the Littrells for letting him hide in their home.

"Ok then," chuckled Jackie. "Let me call Harold and tell him it's a go, and you can talk with your staff about spiriting you out of here in secret."

"Thank you, Jackie," he said as she stood.

"Oh you're more than welcome, Skyler," she said beaming a warm smile at him. "Recovery should be done in comfort and without stress."

Things began to happen very quickly after Jackie excused herself to call Harold. Laura called several people about finding a proper decoy to take the press's eyes off the hospital. Tabitha went to the house to pack some clothes for both Skyler and Preston. Cassie and Kaleb got as much of her stuff together as they could. Ben sat with Skyler while Chad went to work on his video shoot and Clay booked the special flight. Skyler thought again about buying a jet of his own.

The flight was booked for two AM and Skyler chuckled at Dr. Brenner when he'd complained about the unusual release of a patient. The bags and luggage were all taken to the airport as Skyler had supper with his family. Then one by one his friends came into his room to tell him how happy they were that he was awake and how much they'd miss him while he was gone.

"It's so good to see you awake, man," said AJ as he came in with Howie and Brian. "I was so worried about you, Sky. We all were."

"Well everyone can stop worrying," said Skyler. "I'm awake and I'm getting better. Thank you guys so much for being here for me."

"We wouldn't have been anywhere else, Sky," said Brian with a soft smile on his face.

All three of them hugged Skyler and wished him well. He told them each that he expected to see them in Lexington from time to time. He had no idea how long he'd be there. He just knew that he wouldn't return to Orlando unless he could walk. He just hoped that would come soon. He was starting to get tired but perked up when Jeff came in with Nick and Drew Lachey. He was happy to see Jeff finally but wished that they could be alone to talk.

"Hey," said Nick as the trio walked in. "It's been a long time since we've seen each other, but I'm glad that you're awake."

"Thanks, Nick," Skyler replied. "It has been a while."

"Well not for all of us," laughed Jeff. "Good to see you awake, Sky."

Skyler could see the unspoken emotion in Jeff's eyes as they looked at each other. Jeff was in love with him. He'd told him that before the accident. What Skyler wanted to find out was if he could fall in love with Jeff as well. He knew that Jeff was still married and he wouldn't even attempt a relationship with him under those circumstances. He just hoped that they could sit down and discuss that soon.

"Thanks for coming, guys," he said, boring into Jeff with his eyes.

"We should get out of here and let the others come see you," said Drew as he patted Skyler on the back. "Stay with us, man."

"Plan on it," chuckled Skyler as he watched Jeff.

"I'll call you in Lexington, Sky," said Jeff. "Every day if I can."

"You'd better come to see me, Jeff," said Skyler quickly.

"Count on it," he said as the three left the room.

Skyler thought of nothing but Jeff as he watched them leave the room. He sighed when they were gone. Yes, he thought, he could fall in love with Jeff. It would be too easy if he didn't keep himself in check. Jeff had to get his divorce before Skyler would ever consider being anything more than Jeff's friend. That was the only way it could be.

"Those eyes," said Madonna as she came into the room. "It's so good to see those beautiful blue eyes of yours, Sky."

"M!" he gasped. "I was starting to think you were hiding from me."

"Not hiding," she replied, coming over to take him into her arms. "Just letting your family have as much time with you as they needed."

"But you are my family," he said, holding her tight. "Will you come to Lexington to see me?"

"Nothing could keep me from it," she said with a smile as she sat on the edge of his bed. "Nonnie keeps asking about you."

"Bring her to Lexington when you come," replied Skyler. "I'd love to see her."

"I can do that," she chuckled. "I've spent a little time with your son today."

"Oh God, M," he beamed. "Isn't he amazing?"

"He is," she agreed. "When are you adopting him?"

"I figured I'd wait until after I left the hospital," he said. "Now that I'm going to Lexington I don't know when it will happen."

"You can talk to a judge there, Sky," she pointed out. "It isn't going to be a problem for you. If you need help keeping it quiet just call me."

"Thanks," he sighed, leaning back in his bed.


"Zonked," he replied, yawning at the same time. "It's been a long day."

"Well why don't you get some rest until it's time to leave?" she asked. "I'll tell everyone to leave you alone."

"Thanks," he said with a smile.

"Love you, Toy," she said.

"Always," he replied before she hugged him again.

While Skyler was sleeping Clay and others from Sky High put their plan in motion. At eleven they started handing out signed CD's and DVD's to all of the fans who'd gathered in front of the hospital. This went on until well into the morning hours. With so much excitement at the front of the hospital the press converged on the gathered fans and Sky High staff. Several began to give live reports of the night's activity. This was the perfect cover.

They woke Skyler at midnight to start getting him ready. Jeff was still there and Skyler was happy when he came in to say goodbye one last time. Chad and Kaleb helped get Skyler dressed. Then it was time to get Preston ready but he slept through the activity for the most part. They headed out through the service and employee entrance at one. Skyler, Preston and Cassie were seated in the SUV that would take them to the airport. It was a white SUV with a company name on the side. The windows were tinted as well. This all worked to their advantage. They made it away from the hospital without anyone detecting them. The others stayed at the hospital for a while longer and waited for the call that they'd made it to the airport.

Skyler's party was seated in first class of a private flight along with Jackie, Harold and Brian. AJ and Howie even came along. Once they were in the air, Jackie made the call. They'd escaped.

The next chapter will be posted soon.