© 2005-2010 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved
"They'll likely ban this video, too, Sky," said Madonna as the two of them sat at a table, sipping coffee in a cafe two blocks from the studio in London. They'd just filmed the video for the song they sang together on the album. She was referring to the fact that MTV and VH1 had banned his "I Want Your Sex" video after airing it only once on MTV. "Hot Fire" was just as sexual and provocative as the other. She didn't see it even airing on MTV.
"I don't plan to release it to the video channels," he said, smiling at her. "I'm going to release a DVD with both videos on it and call it something like the banned ones or something."
"That sounds like a good idea," she said, thinking about the success of her "Justify My Love" video when she'd released it as a video single years back. "It'll sell like crazy."
"Can you believe that so many people downloaded the video?" he asked, referring to the news that had come the day after MTV's announcement that over one million people had downloaded the video from Skyler's personal web site.
"It didn't shock me," she said. "How is your father handling all of this?"
Skyler and his father had been butting heads over his schedule for some time. With shooting three videos after his appearance at Hard Rock Cafe in Orlando at the end of January, Ben was ready to tie him to a chair and force him to slow down. He had no intention to slow down any time soon. He'd even announced to the Sky High staff that he was ready to tour again. No one had been happy to hear it. He'd had to argue with both Clay and Laura for two hours before they'd even talk about announcing the tour. He'd been one step ahead of them, though. While they were having that discussion, Andrew and Dianne were on the phones with promotional teams to book dates for the tour. He'd told them his only requirement was that the beginning of the tour couldn't start until after June fifth.
"He's about ready to blow his top," Skyler sighed. "Wait until he finds out what I'm going to be doing when I get back to the states."
"What are you going to be doing?" she asked.
"Hiring dancers," laughed Skyler. "The tour begins June thirteenth in Tokyo."
"Skyler," she gasped. "Have you talked to your doctor about this?"
"Of course," he said, waving his hand to dismiss this direction of conversation.
"Well what do you think?" Skyler sighed. "He thinks it's too soon. I told him that I feel fine and I'm going to do this. Other than Dad and Tabitha the only one throwing a fit is Niki."
"Niki?" Madonna asked, raising her eyebrows.
"Yeah," Skyler sighed again. "She said that if the doctor doesn't OK this tour she isn't going."
"OK," she said slowly. "What are you going to do about that?"
"I'm going to give her a few days to calm down and then sit her down and talk to her," he said. "I was kind of hoping that you would help me with that."
"No, I don't think so," she said carefully. "I won't try to talk you out of touring, Sky. I won't talk to Niki for you either, though."
"Hmm," he said, twisting his napkin into a thin strip of cloth. "You don't think it's a good idea either, do you?"
"I'm not sure," she said. "You feel fine?"
"Fine as a fiddle," he said without looking her in the eye.
"The dates are booked?" she asked.
"All of them," he said, hoping she wouldn't ask how many there were and what they were. She'd flip when she heard that the tour schedule was exactly the same as her "Blond Ambition" tour from 1990. She'd find out soon though. Clay was ready to release the dates to the public. Tickets would go on sale in Tokyo very soon and then everyone would know what he was up to. He decided to just tell her now and get it over with. "The schedule is just like your 'Blond Ambition' tour in ninety."
She looked at him for a long moment before saying anything. He was ready for her to blow up at him though. The only thing that could keep her from it was the fact that they were in a cafe with other customers. There was no press around that he knew of, but that didn't mean that one of the innocent looking patrons of the cafe wasn't a reporter in disguise. He realized that he was on the boarder of paranoia where the press was concerned but right then all he could worry about was Madonna's reaction to his tour schedule. If she decided to scream at him he knew he could handle it. She never stayed mad at him for long.
"Are you crazy?" she asked calmly. "Do you want to die from exhaustion?"
"I'm completely sane and won't die from exhaustion," he said calmly. "I've discussed this with both Clay and Laura. Believe me, they have their reservations but they both agree that it's a good move for my career."
"Fuck your career," she said hotly. "Skyler are you planning to do back to back shows?"
"Of course," he said. "I'll get through it."
"Oh you'll get through it all right," she said. "You'll get through it because I'm going to make sure you do. I'm going to keep in close contact with your tour staff and if I find out that you're pushing yourself too hard even once I'm coming to spank your insane ass."
She'd said all of that calmly without raising her voice even once. It was the tight smile on her face that made Skyler worry. He was sure that she'd be fine with this. To hear her threaten to beat his ass wasn't reassuring. He was nervous enough about this tour schedule. This was to be the biggest concert tour of his career and he needed all of the support he could get. He decided that he'd have to get his support from the dancers and the band. It hurt that she didn't support him on this but he could live with it.
"I'm going to be just fine," he said, just before draining his coffee cup and carefully sitting it back on its saucer. He didn't plan to sit there and be subjected to a lecture from her as if he were a five year old. He knew what he was doing and he knew the risks he would be taking. That didn't change the fact that he was going to do this tour.
"What are you doing?" she asked as he stood and tossed a few bills on the table.
"I'm leaving," he said. "I'm going back to the hotel to rest. I have a few phone calls to make first. I'll meet you and Guy for dinner just like I promised."
"Skyler, sit down," she said, looking around.
"No, I don't think so," he said, refusing to let her see that she'd hurt his feelings. "I'm tired after the shoot. I'll see you at dinner."
He walked away from the table without another word. He was in the limo and in traffic before Madonna even got up from the table. She couldn't believe that she'd said all that to him. She knew that what he'd come to her for was support and she'd promised to always support him, but she was worried about him. She didn't want him running himself to death and this tour schedule was a sure way to do just that. Still she had to make this right. She'd seen the pain in his eyes and it killed her to know that she had been the cause of it. If his family was already giving him a hard time who was she to knock the wind from his sails?
She worried about that for the rest of the day. Finally just an hour before she and Guy were supposed to meet Skyler at the restaurant, she called Niki. Niki started in as soon as she heard Madonna's voice. She ranted about his attitude and his complete disregard for his own health. She said that he was actually talking about taking Preston along on the tour. Madonna believed that doing that was a good thing but she didn't say that to Niki. Niki was clearly upset enough already.
"You have to talk him out of this, M," Niki said quickly once they'd been silent for only a second.
"I don't think I can talk him out of this, Niki," she sighed. "I hurt his feelings already, and I could see that the fact that none of you in Orlando support his decision hurts him, too. He said that you refused to tour with him this time."
"I did," replied Niki not backing down one little bit. "His doctor is against this and he won't listen to reason. I'm not going to be a party to his self-destruction. Madonna, I can't believe that he's doing this."
"I can't either," she admitted. "But he is doing this. I know I can't change your mind about this but when he comes home could you at least be there for him without yelling?"
"What are you going to say to him at dinner?" she asked.
"I'm going to apologize and be as supportive as I can," she replied. "I don't want him hurting because of me, Niki. I can't stand it."
When she and Guy got to the restaurant Skyler and Brent were already there. They were talking and smiling until they saw her and then the smile melted off Skyler's face as the two of them stood. She wanted to cry when she saw his face change just at the sight of her. She really had some apologizing to do.
"Guy, M," he said, nodding at Guy.
"Skyler, it's good to see you," said Guy, shaking Skyler's hand. "Brent."
"Hello," said Brent as they all sat down.
"Sky, I owe you an apology," Madonna said as soon as they were all seated. "I overreacted and I'm sorry."
"Apology accepted," he said tersely.
"I really am sorry," she said. "I want to help you any way I can with this tour."
"Have you hired your dancers?" Guy asked.
"I have twenty dancers, including Niki and Cassie," he said. "That is if Niki changes her mind and decides to tour with me this time."
"I've heard about Niki's refusal," said Guy, eyeing Madonna. "I'm sorry about that, Sky."
"Thanks," Skyler said, smiling for the first time since they'd arrived. Madonna could see that the smile was forced, though. She hated that he felt uncomfortable around them.
"I talked to Niki," she said.
"Checking up on me already?" he asked coldly.
"Skyler, I tried to change her mind," she said quickly. "She won't budge. She says that she won't tour with you if you won't put it off for a while."
"A year," he said. "That's what she told me when I told her that the tour dates were booked. She told me to wait a year. I can't wait a year for this, M. I have to do it now. I won't take anymore negativity from anyone about this. Anyone who tries to talk me out of the tour will find themselves off my tour staff and I won't say a single word to them until I come home in October."
This was serious. He was more upset than she'd realized. He must have been perched on a perilous grip with his anger when they'd sat down in the cafe for coffee. She mentally kicked herself for what she'd said to him then. Now she understood. Too many people were against this and he'd come to her to find at least one person who would be on track with it. She'd let him down.
"I'm not going to try to talk you out of it," she said finally. "In fact I want to help with your parents any way I can. What does Jeff have to say about this?"
"I haven't discussed this with Jeff," he said. "He's in New York right now and has been since the beginning of the month."
"Well would you like me to be there when you tell him?" she asked, trying to repair the damage she'd done as quickly as possible.
"No," he said. "Thank you, but this is my relationship. I have to talk to him myself."
"Well I think it's great," said Guy. "A tour could be just the therapeutic ticket, Sky."
"Thank you, Guy," replied Skyler with his first genuine smile since they'd arrived.
"When do rehearsals begin, Skyler?" Madonna asked.
"I have a meeting with Gus when I get back to LA," he said. "He's meeting with the dancers while I'm in London."
"Gus?" she asked.
"Gus Reynolds," he replied. "He's really a great choreographer. The moves he's come up with are great."
"I can't wait to see," she said, forcing herself to remain upbeat about this whole thing. It gave her a bad feeling but she wanted him to know that she was there for him.
"Well all of the dancers are supposed to be in Orlando by the seventeenth," he said. "Rehearsals really begin then. At least that's the date that Gus picked."
"I'll have to see if I can get over to Orlando on the seventeenth," said Madonna.
"Oh, wait for a week or so," he said quickly. "Let us get the routines down at least a little before you see us."
"All right," she said with a smile. "I'm expecting to be blown away."
"And we'll do our best to deliver," he said, cocking his head to the side and looking at her. "You're really OK with this?"
"Skyler, I swear I just needed to think about it for a little bit," she said. "I'm sorry for my reaction in the Cafe. I was shocked. After talking to Niki I'm a little mad."
"Mad?" Guy asked, looking at her with raised eyebrows.
"Well, Niki still refuses to tour with Skyler this time," she said. "She's being stubborn. Skyler's doctor thinks it might be a little early to tour but he didn't stop to think that the tour doesn't begin until June. Skyler should be ready by then. Niki just needs to come to her senses."
"I don't think she will," said Skyler with a sigh. "She's actually angry with me for doing this. My parents aren't much further along. Dad all but refused to oversee the construction of the sets. He had Shelly ready to cry when she brought over the preliminary sketches for him to look at."
"I'll talk to your dad, Sky," said Madonna. She'd decided that a firm hands on approach was the right one in this case. How better to show Skyler that she was on his side?
Two hours later Skyler and Brent were back at the hotel. Skyler had called Jeff and was told that Jeff was on a place headed for Orlando. So he called his family. After talking to Chad for twenty minutes he was convinced that his parents hadn't changed their minds so he gave up talking to any of them. He just wished they'd get over their fear that he would collapse from exhaustion.
He didn't reconnect with Jeff until the seventeenth when dance rehearsals began. Jeff was worried about him but Skyler was thankful that he didn't voice his concern too much. Between dance rehearsals and interviews he had very little time with Jeff and Preston. He was happy that the time they were actually together they didn't talk about the tour or his schedules.
"Again!" cried Gus as the music for "Get Up!" played. The dancers groaned and Cassie looked at the man with murder in her eyes.
Skyler was tired. He was more tired than he'd ever been in his life. For the first time since the rehearsals began a week before he actually thought that perhaps Niki and his parents were right. He'd seen Carlos's dance rehearsals and his were nowhere near as grueling as Skyler's but there was nothing to do now. He wouldn't stop the rehearsals for anything. Sky High was about to announce the tour dates. He couldn't back out now. All of the shows were booked. Tickets for the Tokyo shows were about to go on sale. This was it.
When he got to the studio to film the video for "Hearts In Armor", he was so happy to be sitting at a piano for the entire shoot that he nearly cried. He thought about the success of the DVD release of "I Want Your Sex" and "Hot Fire" as he shot the video. It had been insane. The release was certified multi-platinum the same night it was released. It had shocked even Madonna when he'd called to tell her about it after Clay left the house in Orlando.
Niki had talked to the press about her refusal to tour with Skyler the day that dance rehearsals started. Skyler was still so angry with her that any time someone mentioned her name he snapped at them. He couldn't believe that she wouldn't tour with him. Now the only girl connected with his show was Cassie, and she wasn't happy about that. Skyler was sure that the only reason she'd agreed to go along with it was because Kaleb was one of the dancers.
"All right," sighed Gus as they reached the end of the routine. "Meet here again tomorrow morning at five."
"Skyler you have to do something about this," said Cassie as they were standing there gaping at Gus. He'd had them working every day from five AM till the sun went down.
"What would you have me do?" he asked. "We're getting it, Cassie. That's what is important."
"Don't think I don't see how exhausted you are, Skyler Thomas," she said, and he swore he could see Tabitha in her eyes when she'd said it.
"If you're going to ride me on this, Cassie, you can always quit," he said. "I don't care anymore."
He grabbed his bag and stalked off toward the door. Cassie could find her own way home. He wasn't going to listen to another tirade from her or anyone else. Yes the rehearsals were brutal. Yes he was exhausted. He knew that. He didn't need it thrown in his face every time he turned around. Cassie could quit. He still hadn't heard from Tara. He'd called her to ask if she could take Niki's place, but she hadn't gotten back to him yet. He suspected it was Niki's doing.
Once he was home, showered and in his lounge pants with Preston in his arms he was calm again. He just didn't understand why everyone had to fight him on every decision he made. When would they understand that he was all right? At least Jeff had nothing bad to say. He'd said that the dance routines were a bit harsh but that was it. He was completely supportive.
Madonna had made a turn around as well. He wasn't convinced that she was completely for this tour though. He'd seen her and his father sneaking off to talk each time she came to Orlando. Gus had told him that she'd had a long talk with him as well. He'd complained that she'd backed him into a corner talking about how hard he was working the dancers, but she'd left no room for doubt that she'd been talking about Skyler.
He loved her for that, he really did. She just needed to ease off just a little bit. He knew that her support was tentative at best. She would check up on him and she would voice her opinion even if it meant pissing him off. That took balls. That was the one thing about Madonna that he loved the most. She didn't back down from anyone for any reason.
Rehearsals went on straight through the end of March and the entire month of April. By the beginning of May with the premier for Hate Crime just the next day, Skyler was more psyched about the tour than ever. He was still ready to fall over at the end of each rehearsal but he was completely psyched and ready. He was a little tired from all of the dancing and spinning when he arrived at the Sun Theater for the premier with Janet Jackson but he didn't let on. He hoped that no one noticed that he nearly nodded off twice during the movie.
He stayed away from the parties afterward. That wasn't an odd thing. He rarely ever went to the parties unless there was something there for him. Yeah there were celebrities all over Orlando that night but nothing major was riding on him socializing with any of them. He was home and in bed by eleven. Preston was asleep in his crib in the next room and he was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow.
"You can't do this, Sky!" Cassie yelled at him the next day when he'd told her that he was changing the dancer line up to all men.
He was tired of her to be honest. She'd been just as effective at bitching at him as Niki and he was sick of it. He understood that this meant he'd be on tour without either of the twins but at that moment he didn't care. Tara had called that morning to apologize for not calling sooner. She'd said that she didn't get the message until the night before and she was working a job and wouldn't be done until after the tour started. That had been his deciding factor. Cassie didn't really want to tour with him anyway. Now she'd gotten her wish.
"I can do this, Cassie," he said. "And I have. I just got off the phone with Jeff Neal and he assures me he can learn the routines in plenty of time for the first show. Now you don't have to worry about being pushed too hard at rehearsals. It's done."
"Skyler," she said, but she stopped. She glared at him with her hands balled into fists at her sides. "You know what? Never mind. Go on your tour, Sky. Work yourself to death. I don't care anymore. I'm done with this."
"Fine," he said, leaning back in his chair and looking away from her. He hated fighting with her.
"What the Hell is going on in here?" demanded Chad as he and Jason came into the room. "Why are you two screaming at each other?"
"Skyler's changed the dancer line up to all men," Cassie said, glaring at her older brother. "He just fired me."
"She wanted to quit," he said defensively.
"I didn't want to quit," she spat at Skyler. "I wanted you to quit. Damn it, you're running yourself too hard."
"My decision is made, Cassie," he said. "The rehearsals will resume when Jeff gets here. As of right now the dancer lineup is complete and all male."
He left them all to stare after him after that. After a shower he sat in his room with his son. Tears ran down his face as he sat rocking his son back to sleep. He hated himself for fighting with Cassie. He wasn't supposed to fighting with her but she had to stop dragging him down about this. His parents had stopped. Chad wasn't saying anything about it anymore. Even Niki had stopped. She'd stopped calling completely but at least she wasn't screaming at him anymore. He didn't understand why none of them could see that he was fine and ready for this tour.
"Can I come in?" Jason asked from the half open door of Skyler's room.
"Sure, Squirt," said Skyler quietly. "We have to be quiet. I just got him to sleep."
He got up and put Preston in his crib gingerly. He was sure that he knew why Jason had come to him. Fighting with Cassie had probably stirred all of them into action again. He wasn't going to change his mind about any of it, though. If Jason wanted to quit that was fine. He didn't like it but he would deal with it. He didn't need eighteen dancers. Seventeen would work. Tabitha wasn't happy with Jason being a part of the "I Want Your Sex" routine anyway.
"Cassie called Kristy," said Jason as he sat on the edge of Skyler's bed. "She asked her if she could stay with her while we're gone."
"Jesus," he sighed. "Jason you have to know that I didn't enjoy fighting with her."
"I know, Sky," he said. "I've been in every rehearsal. I hear what she says to you. I don't like it that you two are fighting but I understand it."
Skyler looked at his youngest sibling and smiled. Jason was growing up to be a very level headed guy. Skyler knew that Jason's position was a perilous one at best. He was wedged between Skyler and Cassie on this issue but he'd never actually expressed his own opinion about the rehearsals, the routines or the tour itself. Skyler didn't know if that was because he agreed with everyone or if he really believed that Skyler could do it.
"Is Mom still trying to talk you out of going?" he asked after a moment of silently looking at him.
"No," he sighed. "Dad made her stop. She's not happy about the G-string but she isn't trying to stop me. We argued about it a few times last week but she's stopped all together now. She might start in again when she gets home and finds out that Cassie isn't coming along."
"What do you think of the routine?" Skyler asked him, looking at him hard.
"I think it's sexy," said Jason with a blush. "I mean we're all going to be practically naked and that embarrasses me a little bit. But it's sexy at the same time. It makes me feel good that you trust me enough to put me in the routine and I won't let you down."
Skyler hugged his little brother tightly. He wasn't worried about Jason just keeping quiet and agreeing with the rest of them. Jason really had a mind of his own, and his mind was on the tour. Sure he was most worried about the sexy routine but it was still a part of the tour. Skyler hadn't bothered to tell anyone that Gus had suggested that they switch from G-strings to Speedos. He'd let them know that when they did the first dress rehearsal.
"Thank you, Squirt," Skyler said as he let go of Jason.
The next chapter will be posted soon.