© 2005-2010 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved
When they arrived in Chicago, Skyler was surprised to see fans waiting. It was raining like crazy and it was four in the morning. They must have stayed out there in the parking lot of the Hilton all night. They were soaking wet but jumping and screaming his name as the bus pulled into the lot. He smiled, shaking his head as he looked at them. Being in Chicago meant two things to Skyler. One was the interview with Oprah that was scheduled for later that day. The second was Jeff Timmons. Jeff was supposed to have a few days off from his own gig to come and spend time with Skyler. Skyler was looking forward to having him around. He missed him like crazy. He'd be in Chicago in two days.
"Are we ready for this?" Brent asked as he slid into the seat next to Skyler and looked out at the fans.
"I don't think a half hour in the rain would be a great idea at this point," Skyler said. "I'll let someone announce to the fans that I'm sorry. We can invite all of them to a special meet 'n greet tomorrow afternoon."
"Sounds good to me," said Brent, getting up. "I'll radio your father. He can send someone out to talk to them."
"Any time," he replied, pulling his radio off his belt and walking toward the front of the bus.
Skyler felt bad about ditching the fans, and he knew that whoever went out there would be stuck for a few hours gathering names to be checked off at the door to the banquet hall the next day. There just wasn't any other way. This tour was far too grueling for him to stand in the rain for a half hour posing for pictures and signing autographs. The last thing he needed was to get sick on top of his current problems.
"Sky, Debbie and John are going out there with a few of the security team," said Brent as he came back from the front of the bus. "We'll wait for a bit until they get people moving and then you'll be in the center of the rest of us. I'll be beside you and Matt and Phil in front and Dominic and Sid behind us."
"Sounds good," Skyler said, looking out the window still. "So CJ and David are going with Debbie and John?"
"That's good," he said. "They're likely to tear them apart when they hear that I won't stand in the rain to talk to them."
Matt and Phil had been hired just before the tour started. Skyler hadn't had a chance to get to know Phil very well. He was a menacing looking man with big arms and scowl most of the time. Brent vouched for him though. They'd been in the Marines together, and Skyler was inclined to believe that Brent knew what he was talking about. Matt had applied through Sky High, so Skyler had actually interviewed him along with Clay, Laura and Ben. He'd found Matt very likeable but also very serious about what he did for a living. He had impeccable references. It also didn't hurt that Kevin Richardson was his first reference.
When Skyler called Kevin to find out why Matt wasn't working with Backstreet anymore he learned something very important. Kevin had said that things had gotten really strange between Matt and Brian and Matt had just not renewed his contract. For Skyler that explained a lot. Kevin wouldn't go into detail but it wasn't what he wouldn't say. It was the way he didn't say things that opened Skyler's eyes. Matt was hired as soon as Skyler terminated his phone call with Kevin. Neither man even blinked when they were presented with the confidentiality agreement. Apparently it was quite standard with celebrities.
"Skyler, you got a call from Detroit last night," said Laura as she came down from the front of the bus. Skyler hadn't even known she was on his bus.
"Who called from Detroit?" he asked. There was no one there for him anymore. His mother and step-father were both dead.
"He said his name was Dale Durante," she said. "He was adamant that you knew who he was. He said his mother gave him your contact information."
Dale Durante was Peter Durante's younger brother. Skyler thought for a moment and realized that the boy was now eighteen years old. He hadn't spoken to any of the Durantes since the airing of his video for "How Do You Get That Lonely" three years ago. He wondered what Dale could want. The fact that they were very close to Detroit didn't escape Skyler's attention.
"Thanks, Laura," he said. "I'll call him when we get up."
"Laura, we're ready for you," said Matt as he came onto the bus.
"Well let's get this done so Skyler can get some real sleep," said Laura, grinning at Skyler before she turned and followed Matt off the bus.
Skyler watched as she and Matt were joined by Debbie, John, CJ and Clay. He wondered why Laura and Clay were handling this. He thought Debbie and John were more than capable. It was their job as the tour manager and her assistant. He decided not to worry about it though. When he started to question Laura and Clay they both became a little more than irritated.
Twenty minutes later, Skyler's security was joined by the hotel security and he and Jason followed their mother into the hotel. Ben's bus hadn't even come to the hotel. He was already at the arena to set up the sets. Skyler sighed as he thought about how tired his father must have been. There was no time to worry over it though. He was dead on his feet himself. A hot shower and a soft bed were exactly what he was looking forward to. His wake-up call would come terribly early for him and he had calls to make when he got himself awake again.
"There's a friend here in the hotel, Skyler," said Brent as they walked into the hotel lobby.
"Who?" he asked, dreading what Brent would say next. If it was JC he would scream.
"Christian Kane is staying in the hotel," he said, shocking Skyler. "They told us that he and his entourage were here when we confirmed our booking last night."
"I wonder what Chris is doing in Chicago," Skyler mumbled as they walked up to the desk.
Christian Kane was the actor who had been hired to play a character in the next "Wheel Of Time" movie. The fact that they'd been hiring the actors and actresses needed to fill roles that hadn't been a part of the first installment made Skyler slightly nervous. He was contractually bound to reprise his role as Rand Al'Thor in all of the upcoming sequels. That didn't bother him a bit. He knew he would take a substantial payment for each installment. What bothered him was that he didn't want to have to shoot a movie as soon as the tour ended. If Renny was anywhere near ready for the cast to be called back to Australia Skyler was in trouble.
Still, seeing Christian Kane again wasn't a bad thing for Skyler. The two had met when the younger man had come to the studio for his screen test. They'd seen each other in various places since and Skyler liked him. He thought about Christian as Tabitha collected key cards and got everyone checked in. She was very efficient at her job and they were cleared to go to their rooms in a matter of moments. As they boarded the elevators all thoughts of Christian Kane were replaced by the thought of that hot shower and soft bed.
And that's just what Skyler got when he got to the floor that had been reserved for his people. The dancers were with him in the hotel as well as Clay, Laura, Debbie, John and his security staff. The technicians and construction crews were in another hotel. Only his father would be staying at the hotel with them and that wouldn't be until after the sets were set up.
Once he was satisfied that he was clean he went back to the bedroom and climbed into the king-sized bed. He was asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow, but a loud knocking on his door woke him a few hours later instead of the dreaded wake-up call. He cursed as he stretched and swung his legs over the side of the bed, slipping his feet into the hotel slippers as he did so. His robe was on in a flash and he was on his feet. One thing about being on tour was that when the phone woke him or anyone else decided it was time for him to be awake he'd learned to come from a deep sleep to a fully awake state in seconds. It didn't do his head any favors however. He thought about taking a pill for his headache as he opened the door to be surprised and forget all about his headache.
"Hey Blondie," said Jeff as Skyler opened the door, making Skyler's eyes nearly pop out of their sockets.
"Jeff!" he cried, grabbing his lover and yanking him inside the door. The door shut with Jeff's back against it. Skyler was all over him in an instant, clawing at his shirt and crushing his lips with his own. A small moan escaped him as he felt Skyler's tongue run over his bottom lip. He opened his lips and accepted Skyler's kiss.
"That was incredible," he breathed when Skyler let him go. "If this is the way you're going to greet me every time I show up and surprise you count on more surprises!"
"I'm just so happy to see you," replied Skyler before shoving himself against him again and devouring his mouth in another kiss.
"God, I love you!" cried Jeff when Skyler let go of him again. "You keep kissing me like that and we're never going to make it to your interview."
"Fuck the interview," replied Skyler, pressing against him yet again for another kiss.
Jeff's hands traveled down Skyler's sides and slowly back up. He was so hungry for Skyler that it hurt and he knew there was no time for what he wanted most of all. Skyler was supposed to be heading downstairs to the "show room" for his live interview with Oprah in another five minutes. He knew that Skyler wanted the interview, so he finally pushed him back.
"Slow down," he panted, shaking from the power of Skyler. "You really can't miss your interview."
"I know," sighed Skyler. "But when we get back to the hotel tonight you're mine, Blue Eyes."
"I wouldn't have it any other way," said Jeff with a grin.
Ten minutes later, Skyler and Jeff got off the elevator with Brent on the designated floor. As they approached the room that had been reserved for this little interview, Jeff bumped fists with Jason and then Kaleb and asked about how it was all going for the two of them. Skyler paid no attention to what his sibling and head dancer had to say. He let himself be escorted inside the room by Laura.
"Skyler," said Oprah with a smile as she stood to hug him. "Thank you for agreeing to this interview."
"Does it matter that I'm in lounge pants and this shirt?" he asked, holding out the bottom of his black tour shirt and grinning.
"Nope," she said with another smile. "It fits right in. Their calling this little thing 'Breakfast With Skyler'. That's why you see the tea and pastries on the coffee table."
"I'm not allowed to eat that stuff," he laughed. "I might while I'm here today though."
"Skyler, don't make me call Sid in here," threatened Laura. "You know how serious he is about making sure you follow what the doctor and dietitian said."
"Yes, Laura," he said, smiling at Oprah who smiled back with a chuckle.
"So, how are you, kiddo?" Oprah asked as a technician brought over a tiny microphone to clip to Skyler's shirt.
"I'm doing pretty good actually," he said with a genuine smile. "We've had a few bumps in the road, but for the most part the tour's been great."
"Glad to hear it," she said. "I plan to catch the show tomorrow night."
"Yeah," he said as he sat on the sofa with her. "They told us that you would be coming to the show. There are tickets waiting for you I believe."
"They arrived yesterday morning," she said, beaming at him. "Thank you for that."
"Oh, don't even worry over it," he replied.
"Ready?" she asked when her cameraman held up his hand to indicate that they would be live in five.
"Shoot," he chuckled.
"We're here, live at The Chicago Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue with Skyler Thomas," said Oprah as she smiled at the camera. "Skyler took a break from his busy tour schedule to be here with us this morning for a bite of breakfast. Skyler, how is the tour going so far?"
"It's been a whirlwind, Oprah," he said honestly. "There were problems in Los Angeles and we had to refund some tickets."
"I heard about that," she said quickly. "What was the problem?"
"There was a scheduling conflict at the arena," he said, thinking about what he'd said about them hearing about it after he left the arena. "Someone in charge there had booked two events for the last two nights that my show was to perform there."
"That's outrageous," she said, looking shocked. "But everyone got their money back?"
"They did," he said with a nod of his head. "We also invited them to Oakland for a special show, but that didn't come into play unfortunately. The tour schedule just wouldn't allow it."
"So the special show never happened?" she asked.
"No, and I was very upset about that," he said. "I wanted to do something for the fans that didn't get to see the show because of what happened, so when the HBO cameras are with us in France I'll be sending advance copies to each of the ticket holders who didn't get to see me live. It isn't much, but it's something."
He was sure that Laura and Clay were about ready to explode over that revelation. He had only decided to do this on the bus from the airport to the hotel and hadn't discussed it with either of them yet. He felt bad about that, but he wanted those fans compensated heavily. This was one way to make sure that happened. He'd already made sure that shirts, buttons and other memorabilia from the tour had been shipped to every address on the list.
"They always say that you are the friendliest celebrity in show business," she said. "This shows me that you're the most compassionate in regard to your fans as well."
"Well the fans are the ones paying my salary," he replied. "They stand in the cold and rain to get tickets. Just last night I was touched that so many fans were outside in the rain waiting for my bus to arrive at the hotel. Unfortunately I couldn't stand in the rain to talk with them so they'll all be here later today for a special meet 'n greet that I made sure was set up before I got off the bus."
"That's wonderful, Skyler," she said, smiling.
"Well it's like I said," he said quickly. "Without my fans I'm nobody. If it weren't for the fans buying up all of the CDs and posters, I'd be just another face in the crowd. I know who it was that put me where I am and I plan to take care of them as often and as well as I can."
"Let's talk about Lissa Mealiff," she said. "I talked with her family a few weeks ago and they say that if it hadn't been for what you did for them, Lissa would likely have died in the hospital."
"That was something that I just couldn't stand for," he said. "When I met her older sister, Angie at a meet 'n greet before a show I decided that Lissa needed something special. I paid to have the hospital transport her to the arena and set up in one of the party boxes. I made sure that nurses were with her and that medicine schedules didn't have to be interrupted while she was at the show."
"But that's not all you did for them," she prompted.
"No it wasn't," he agreed. "Rich and Alice Mealiff were in a terrible spot. Their youngest daughter was suffering from a rare blood disorder and their cash flow was almost non existent. I made sure that Rich had a decent job to help take care of his family and paid for specialists to come and look into Lissa's case. As it turned out that was all that was needed. They found the problem, put together the right combination of drugs and treatments and Lissa was healthy enough to leave the hospital not long after."
"That's amazing," she said with tears in her eyes. "You really are a wonderful man, Skyler Thomas."
"It doesn't have anything to do with trying to be a good man," he said. "I did that for them because they're human beings that had been given just a bit more than they could handle on their own. I wanted to help."
"You certainly helped them," she said. "Lissa was all smiles when she and her family were on the show. She talked about you for nearly the entire hour."
"Isn't she sweet?" he laughed.
"So there are very mixed reviews about your show this time around," she said, getting to the real reason for the interview. "Some say they are shocked by what they're seeing out there."
"Well the album as well as the tour are meant to push buttons and make people sit up and notice again," he said. "The more adult nature of this album demanded a more adult nature in the tour. What everyone is talking about is the unexpected change from my usual musical sound and image. This album was an intentional break from the old image, and this tour is an extension of that break."
"Why the break from your usual?" she asked.
"Well I was tired of being seen as the perfect boy next door," he said. "In a lot of ways I am the boy next door. I haven't forgotten what it was like to grow up in Detroit, and I'll always remember what it was like to count change to buy food my first year of college. But I'm more mature now and my life has changed. Because of that I decided that it was time that the world saw me as a man instead of a boy."
"The sexual element on the album doesn't seem to have put off fans," she said. "I've been told that every show in the tour so far has sold out."
"That's what they tell me," he said with a huge smile. "I'm very happy that my fans understood what happened when the album came out and they got to listen to the tracks. I'm not saying that this will become the new norm for me, but I'm never going back to the 'bubble gum' music of the past again."
"You seem to have attracted some new fans with this album," she said. "I saw so much more than teen aged girls lining up for the meet 'n greet today. i saw grown men and women who were just as fierce in their love for you as their teen aged counterparts."
"Well I think a lot of that has to do more with the fact that I'm now a father more than the sound of the music or the lyrics," he said.
"And how is little Preston?" she asked with a big smile.
"Preston isn't so little anymore," he laughed. "He grows at least an inch a day I swear. It's all going so fast."
"I bet he's amazing," she said, still smiling.
"Oprah, being a father is like nothing I'd ever imagined," he said truthfully. "Having Preston in my life has made so much a of a difference. Believe me, I wasn't ready, but I'm getting the hang of it."
"I love that you're controlling the amount of press he gets," she said.
"The press is still a very sore subject with me," he replied. "I don't want random photographers endangering Preston's safety just for a stupid picture. We take steps every day to completely avoid the press. When we can't we just take steps to ruin every photo they try to take. I allowed a photo shoot right after we returned to Orlando, and eventually I'll allow another one."
"How has it been having him along on the road?" she asked.
"Oh I'd say he's having a ball," he laughed. "When we're on the bus he likes to watch out the window at the passing scenery. He giggles when he sees cows for some reason. I don't know why, but it's so great to hear him giggle I find myself praying that we'll find farm after farm with lots of cows."
That had them both laughing, and they were still talking about it while the cameramen began to tear down their equipment. Skyler really liked Oprah. She never asked the difficult questions that he didn't want to answer and always made him feel at ease. He'd told her when she'd called about this interview that he would always chat with her on television.
As soon as he was out of the room he had to rush back upstairs and change clothes for the meet 'n greet that he'd had set up for the fans that were left in the rain the night before. Jeff followed him back to the suite and only kissed him once. Skyler growled at him as they left the suite to head down to the banquet room. Brent and Matt fell into step behind them.
The fans were very happy with the photographs that Laura had arranged to have on hand for him to sign for them. They also had various magazines and pictures of their own. He signed autographs, answered questions and posed for pictures for nearly two hours before Brent decided that enough was enough and whispered something in Laura's ear. As soon as he did she got up and announced that the event had come to it's conclusion. Skyler thanked all of them for being there and apologized once again for leaving them standing in the rain.
Over a lunch of steamed vegetables that he hated, Skyler tried very hard to catch up with Jeff and what he'd been up to. The two were being very careful with the company around them not to let anything slip. They were just sitting there, drinking tea when Christian Kane and his younger brother, Ryan came to their table.
"Chris," Skyler said, getting to his feet to give his friend a hug. "I'd heard that you were here and wondered when we'd see each other. You know Jeff Timmons, right?"
"Christian Kane," he said, shaking Jeff's hand. Jeff turned to Ryan and introduced himself while shaking his hand as well.
"Sit," Skyler said, sitting back down.
"You're pretty busy today I'm sure," said Christian as he and Ryan sat down at the table. "I won't take up too much of your time."
"Oh I've got some time," said Skyler. "What's up?"
"Well we had to get away from our father for a while," replied Christian. "He's just getting to be too much to handle."
"More drinking?" Skyler asked.
Christian had told Skyler all about his father's drinking problem and the money it was taking to get him help that he didn't want. The problem was that Christian and Ryan were the only family that was left and it fell on them to pay the bills when their father fell off the wagon and started drinking again.
"It's worse this time," said Christian. "He's been arrested four times, and it isn't going to go away."
"So you're hiding in Chicago?" Skyler asked slowly.
"Well I was kind of hoping that we could tag along on your tour with you for a while," said Christian.
"Well that may be a bit difficult," Skyler replied. "We have only so much space on the buses as it is."
"If it's going to be a problem . . ."
"No," said Skyler after taking the time to think it through for a moment. "It isn't a problem. It's just going to be difficult. I'm sure that you can travel with the crew. From time to time there'll be room on my bus, but right now I'm full."
"We wouldn't mind traveling with the crew," Christian said quickly. "We could even help out."
Skyler doubted that Christian could help out much. He was in fine shape but he knew better than to believe that Christian knew anything about construction. He wasn't about to subject his father to another worker that had no experience. Christian was such a celebrity that he would act like one, but there was no point in making him falter if he didn't have to.
"Well I don't think we need any help with the construction of the sets," he said. "I wouldn't want either of you working on the sets anyway. I want you both to enjoy the shows as much as you can."
"So you'll let us come along for a while?" Christian asked with a hopeful expression.
"Sure," he said. "Let me just get everything worked out with Debbie. You're staying here in the hotel right?"
"We are," said Christian. "We're actually two floors under you."
"Well let me talk to Debbie and I'll have her call you with the details," Skyler said, wondering how much everyone was going to scream about adding two more mouths to feed and taking up two more bunks on the already full crew bus.
The next chapter will be posted soon.