© 2005-2010 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 74

"You look good, Sky," said Christian as they climbed into the waiting SUV at the airport.

"Thanks," replied Skyler. "So do you."

"So what's on the agenda today?" Chip asked.

"Well I thought we'd stick close to the house today," said Skyler. "Jeff leaves tomorrow night. I want to spend as much time with him and the kids as possible."

"That sounds good," said Christian. "I've had quite enough of the press lately."

"Twerps giving you a hard time?" Jeff asked as Skyler pulled the SUV out into traffic.

"Perpetually," laughed Chip. "There were a bunch camped out in front of his apartment building this morning."

"They kept asking questions about us," said Justin. "It was funny."

"Why was it funny?" Skyler asked. Any mention of groups of the press still irritated him.

"My dad told them that the President was two blocks away," chuckled Justin. "They took off like something was after them."

"You're so bad," Christian laughed at Chip.

"It got them off our trail," he said smugly.

"Right," said Christian, smiling wider. "Just one of the reasons that I love you."

"So you guys are a couple," said Jeff, smiling. "Sky and I have been wondering about that for a while now."

"I'm sorry," said Christian. "I'd have told you both if we'd been able to spend any time around you. You guys are harder to get to than a king."

"Security is insanely tight around Camp Thomas," Chip agreed.

"Well you both know why," said Skyler. "It isn't going to change any time soon."

They were silent for the rest of the journey to the house. Jeff reached over and squeezed Skyler's knee as he drove. He knew having the security so strictly bound around him was what kept him comfortable. He had no love for the press what so ever and Jeff understood that as well. After all it was a member of their cursed ranks that nearly killed him. If a constant group of security following them anywhere they went was the price to pay to keep Skyler from being a nervous wreck Jeff was content to put up with it. It certainly kept the children's faces out of the tabloids. He was thankful for that.

When they got to the house they saw that Chad and Jason were practicing their dance moves on the back patio. Justin happily raced out the sliding doors to join them. The adults chuckled as he fell in line with them and tried to imitate their moves. Justin had told his father and Christian on several occasions that he was going to dance for one of Skyler's tours one day.

"He's good actually," Skyler said as they watched the boys dance. "A little more practice and he just might be on stage with me in a few years."

"Don't let him hear you say that, Sky," Chip said seriously. He was watching his son with a strange look on his face. Skyler decided not to question it.

Turning to go into the living room he found Jase standing off to the side of them. He was also watching Justin dance with Chad and Jason. There was a strange look on his face as well. Skyler almost asked him what was up but remembered Chip not wanting Justin to know that Skyler liked his dancing and thought better of it. Instead he followed Jeff into the living room where the three children were on the floor. Jeff JR. was spread out on a blanket with little toys around him. Preston was trying to pound square blocks into a round hole in a box of blocks and giggling because they wouldn't fit. Alyssa looked up from her coloring book, saw her daddy and a huge grin spread over her face, making her look completely joyous.

"Daddy!" she cried, alerting Preston that they'd entered the room. He immediately dropped the square block and put his arms up, giggling louder.

Chip and Christian smiled as they watched Skyler and Jeff fall to their knees, taking their waiting children into the arms and holding them tight. Preston climbed all over Skyler as he sat on the floor, trying to hold the toddler in his lap. Alyssa was showing Jeff her coloring book and talking a mile a minute. Jeff paid rapt attention to what she was saying to him as he rubbed Jeff JR.'s belly, making the baby coo.

"Are you all packed for tomorrow?" Jeff asked when Alyssa stopped her monologue. Chip noticed the sigh that escaped the man as he said it.

"I don't want to go," said Alyssa, pouting at her father.

"Baby, you know you have to," he replied softly. "Daddy has to work."

"You always work," she replied, pouting more.

"I'm sorry," he said, hugging his daughter tight. "I promise to bring you home something really great."

"Will Mommy sing to me at night?" Alyssa asked, pulling out of his embrace to look him in the eye.

"I'll tell her to," Jeff promised, hugging her again as he stood, pulling her up as well. "Come on. Let's get you and Junior packed for Mommy."

He walked out of the room, carrying his daughter. Skyler watched him go with a look of sadness on his face. He hated that Jeff's kids had to go to their mother while he was on tour. He hugged Preston tighter, thinking that he was lucky there wasn't anyone to demand that his son stay behind. He looked up as Laura came into the room, carrying a magazine in her hand. She didn't look happy.

"Have you seen this?" she asked, holding out the copy of "Reality Magazine".

"No," he replied, taking it as he shifted Preston to the other arm. "But if you're upset about it I guess I should look at it."

The fact that Skyler didn't try to censure the Littrell magazine was a source of irritation for Laura. Several times she'd had little fits over things that had made it into the magazine when Skyler thought it was funny. He was sure that this time would be no different. He looked at the cover and saw Justin Timberlake's picture. He kissed the top of Preston's head before putting the boy back on the floor. He opened the magazine, wondering what could upset Laura about Justin.

He scanned the interview in the magazine and looked back up at his agent in confusion. He didn't see what had upset her at all. Justin hadn't said anything about him that would have to be dealt with. Even what he said about them all working on other projects was fine with Skyler. He told the reporter that nothing had been said about any kind of deal with Sky High about his solo project. What was she upset about?

"He very nearly told them everything," she snapped when he didn't say anything.

"Laura," he said with a sigh as he got to his feet, handing the magazine to Christian. "You're getting paranoid. Justin didn't say anything that anyone on my staff would have to answer. What has Andrew or Eric had to say about it?"

"I don't think they've seen it," she replied. "I'd have heard from either of them if they had."

"Oh, I guarantee they've seen it, Laura," he said. "Both of them are on the list for advance copies of every issue. Even Dan still gets a copy and he's been on vacation since the tour ended."

"I just think you all need to be more careful," she said with a sigh of her own. "That stunt you all pulled over the New Year holiday is still causing talk."

"That's what it was supposed to do, Laura," he reminded. "Look, no one really believes what any of the tabloids had to say about that night. Stop worrying so much. My career is fine."

"It won't be if you keep this up," she said, pointing at the magazine.

"Laura, I'm not going to discuss what Justin Timberlake says to a reporter with you," he said. "I'm starting to think that you need a vacation. What is up with you?"

"Nothing," she replied. "I worry about you. That's all."

"Well thank you for worrying, Larua," he said. "Just calm down about Justin. 'Nsync is recording the album. Justin is fulfilling the contract he signed. When this is over he'll be with Sky High. Then you can worry about what he says to a reporter."

"All right," she sighed. "I was told we're not having a meeting here with you until you return from Australia."

"Yes," he said. "I need to concentrate on spending time with my family and friends before I leave. Clay is in charge of all of the decisions for Sky High until I come back. There's no point in me being at the meetings before I leave when he's in charge already."

"You're leaving tomorrow night?" she asked.

"That's right," he said. "Jeff leaves at six and Christian, Preston and I will be on the eight o'clock flight."

"Well have a safe trip," she said, walking over and hugging him. "And call me when you land."

"Will do," he said, hugging back. "You remain calm."

"I'll try," she said when they let go of each other. "Being your agent is sometimes a lot more work than I ever dreamed."

"I love you, too," he said, smiling at her.

"I have to go pick up Gabrielle," she said, walking out of the room.

Skyler sighed as he watched her go. Laura was getting a little high strung for some reason. Part of it was him, he knew. She had to understand that he couldn't just let the tabloids get away with doing whatever they wanted. He had to fight back. Playing with them was just on way to fight back.

After Laura left and Jeff got Alyssa packed, Skyler suggested that they change into swim trunks and lounge by the pool. He asked them what they wanted for lunch and then helped Jeff prepare sandwiches. He put bottled water and juice in a cooler and followed his lover to the pool, passing the dancing trio along the way.

"Justin we're going to be doing some swimming if you want to run upstairs and change," Skyler told him as they passed. "We've got food, too."

"Cool," cried the youngster. "I'll be right back."

"Looking good, guys," he said to his brothers and got smiles from them as the two stopped practicing. Chad grabbed a bottle of water out of the cooler before Jeff could get past him.

"I think we'll join you in the pool after we take quick showers," Chad informed. "Got enough for us?"

"Of course," Skyler called over his shoulder. "Just be quick."

"Ooh, thank you," said Chip as Skyler handed him a sandwich from the plate. "I'm starving."

"No food on the flight, huh?" Skyler asked as he moved to give Christian his sandwich. "There's water and juice in the cooler."

"Airline food isn't all that great," Chip answered before taking a bite of his sandwich.

"What did you say to Justin to get him to come swim?" Christian asked, taking the sandwich as Skyler held it out.

"Just that we were going to swim and eat," replied Skyler with a chuckle. "Food usually does it. It got my brothers to stop dancing."

"I saw that," said Chip as Skyler put the plate of sandwiches on the table and took his seat next to his lover. Jeff took his hand as he sat down.

"Cassie's got the kids," Jeff told him.

"I figured," he replied. "Let's just enjoy the sun for a bit."

"Planned on it," laughed Jeff.

They talked about anything and everything except Jeff's leaving for the tour and Skyler and Christian leaving later for location. Chip told them that he and Justin were almost completely moved to Orlando, shocking Skyler and Jeff. The last that the pair had known Christian was spending time in Dallas with Chip and Justin.

"You're moving here?" Skyler asked. "Why didn't anyone tell me?"

"Well there wasn't much to tell," said Christian. "We thought you knew about our relationship. Because of that we thought you understood that we would be moving in together."

"No," said Skyler. "All of this was news to us."

"Well we'll be in Orlando so maybe whatever comes next won't be a shock to you and Jeff," said Christian with a chuckle. "I'm sorry for not telling you. I honestly thought you knew already. I mean, we got together near the end of the tour, Sky."

"All I knew at that point was that the two of you were getting close," replied Skyler. "I was having a bit of trouble while we were on tour."

"I remember," said Chip. "How is your head?"

"Fine," said Skyler, smiling at his friend. "Thanks."

"No thanks needed," replied Chip. "I was really worried about you."

"It got a little scary toward the end, but I'm fine now," assured Skyler. "I've seen my doctor and he's signed off. I don't have to see him anymore."

"That's good," said Christian. "I was ready to slap the shit out of you for keeping the tour going for a while."

"You'd have had to stand in line," said Jeff, smirking at Skyler. "I was way ahead of you."

"I love you, too," Skyler said, faking outrage as he glared at his lover.

"I would rather love you alive, Sky," Jeff said seriously.

"I know," Skyler said, his voice softening and looking down.

"That's over now," said Chad as he and Jason came to grab sandwiches and sit down by the pool. Justin was already splashing around in the water.

"Yeah," said Skyler.

For the next hour they chatted alternating with time in the pool, throwing Justin around in the water and making the boy cackle with gleeful laughter. Then, deciding that they'd had enough sun, the group went inside to shower off the chlorine and get ready for dinner.

They ate on the patio with the whole family. Ben and Jase bantered back and forth with Skyler and his brothers about how horrible they were with the house cleaning. Skyler argued that he and Jeff kept their room spotless and that even the maid that now came three times a week couldn't find anything wrong in their room.

"Besides, you should see the kids's room!" cried Jeff. "Skyler is fanatical about that room. No dust can be found anywhere."

"I don't want the kids getting sick," Skyler protested.

"How could they get sick?" Chad asked. "The second floor from their room to Sky's is like the germ free zone."

"Oh stop," laughed Skyler. "Just remember when Preston had colic. You couldn't stand to hear him cry then. Imagine if he came down with something. Then you'd be all upset again because your nephew was in distress. I swear your more the nervous uncle than I'll ever be the nervous father!"

"He said my name yesterday," Chad said, beaming at Skyler. "Now the kid can do no wrong."

"Whatever!" laughed Skyler.

"He said my name first," insisted Cassie from across the table. "He says it all the time now."

"Yeah, well Cassie is an easy name to say," taunted Chad. "Try getting him to say Cassandra!"

"He hasn't said my name yet," said Jason, and his siblings' eyes were on him.

"Don't worry, Squirt," said Skyler. "He grows so fast that he'll be saying your name in no time."

"I'm going to miss him while we're gone," Jason said sadly, and everyone around the table was reminded that they'd all be in separate places after the following night. The mood quickly became somber.

"I like this," said Jeff as he sipped his glass of wine and looked at Skyler over the rim of the glass. They were sitting in the hot tub on the balcony off Skyler's room. The water was hot but not too hot and the suds were invigorating. Their legs were resting against each other. One of them would occasionally move their leg to rub the other's.

They'd spent as much time with the family as they could after dinner. In the end they wanted alone time. No one had the heart to tease them about it as they walked up the stairs to first check on their children and then spend some quality time together.

"I like this, too," replied Skyler. "I love being anywhere with you, Jeff."

"I can be happy anywhere as long as you're there," replied Jeff. "I'm just not looking forward to leaving tomorrow night, knowing that you'll be leaving a few nights later for another country that our tour isn't even going to."

"Baby, we'll call each other and visit as often as we can," said Skyler, rubbing Jeff's leg with his own. "We've been over this already."

"I know, but I can whine about it if I want," Jeff said, looking away. "This time we've spent together has really been like home to me, Sky. Having you and the kids is exactly what I want from life."

"Are you saying that you'd give up fame to stay with me and the kids every day for the rest of your life?" Skyler asked, certain of the answer already but hoping he didn't say that was exactly what he wanted. Skyler couldn't give up his career just yet.

"No," sighed Jeff. "I love what I do. I just hate it that it takes us away from each other all the time."

They were both silent for a few minutes before Jeff started to chuckle. Skyler smiled at him, thinking he knew exactly what he was chuckling about. They sounded like they were married. Married. That sounded so good to Skyler. He knew that they were allowing same sex marriages in parts of Canada and he wished they could run off and get married. He'd love to actually, but coming out at this stage in his career wouldn't be the best thing to do.

"I just realized that I sound just like Trisha," Jeff said after his chuckling stopped. "She used to say these same kind of things to me just before I'd have to run off and promote a song or tour."

"Strange, isn't it?" Skyler asked.

"I guess it was just easier for me when I knew that she would be at home while I was gone," he replied. "Before Alyssa was born she just went with us."

"Well I can't just stay home, baby," Skyler said. "I have a career of my own to take care of and I love what I do."

"I know," said Jeff. "I would never ask you to give up anything to be with me, Skyler. It just sucks and I'm going to whine about it from time to time."

"I expect you to," replied Skyler. "And you had better expect me to as well, because I'm going to do my fair share of bitching about being apart as time goes by. I hate it when we're not together, Jeff. I know that you do, too. It's just that I don't think I can explain how much it hurts knowing that I won't be coming home to you at the end of the day. I'd give it all up if I didn't love it so much."

"I understand all of that," Jeff said. "This is just the life of a successful celebrity couple."

"Do you think it'll ever get better?" he asked.

"It has to," replied Jeff.

Having had enough of the hot tub they got out and wrapped towels around themselves. Skyler grabbed the wine bottle while Jeff gathered their glasses and they moved to the bedroom. They cuddled on the bed and sipped their wine in silence. Neither of the wanted to mention how much they would miss the other. They were trying their best to be upbeat for each other.

Then they were kissing and the wine was forgotten. Skyler slid down in the bed and they began to tangle their bodies together. The last thought Skyler had before sleep claimed him was that he was really going to miss Jeff while they were apart. He snuggled closer to him as he drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, Skyler was shocked to find both Kaleb Hassid and Justin Timberlake at the breakfast table. He smiled at them and then took his seat beside Jeff and started to feed Preston. Kaleb and Ben were in a discussion and only nodded and smiled as Skyler and Jeff made their way to the table.

"Morning, Curly," Skyler said as he wiped Preston's chin with his napkin. "Surprised to see you this morning."

"I wanted to come and say goodbye," replied Justin. "I thought you'd be awake already. You're usually in the pool by seven."

"Late night," said Jeff as he and Skyler smiled at each other.

"Well is it all right with you guys if I hang a bit this morning?" he asked.

"Of course it is," said Jeff, smiling at Tabitha across the table. She was feeding the baby and smiled back.

"The magazine came out yesterday," Justin said. "Did you read the interview?"

"Laura brought me a copy," he replied. "For some reason she was worried about it."

"I didn't say anything," Justin said quickly.

"I know, Curly," laughed Skyler. "I read it. Laura is just at loose ends because I won't be around and under her watchful eye for a few months."

"She's not going with you?" asked his father.

"Dad, she has other clients to watch over," Skyler replied. "Besides, Alec will be with us."

"I bet she calls him every day," laughed Tabitha.

"If not twice a day," added his father.

"She's wound all right," agreed Skyler. "I'll warn Alec when he gets here."

"Who from security is going along?" asked his father.

"Brent, David, Dominic, Sid, Phil and Matt," replied Skyler. "Christian will have four of his own along as well."

"We're taking up all of First Class," laughed Christian.

"That should be enough security," said Tabitha.

"I'm not as worried about the Australian press," Skyler replied. "They're not near as blood thirsty."

"Well with everything that's happened over the last ten months I wouldn't put anything past any member of the press in any country," said his father, looking at him hard.

That ended the discussion. Everyone was remembering the events of the last ten months as they ate their breakfast in silence. Afterward Skyler, Jeff and Curly went into the living room with the children. Trisha would be there soon to pick up Alyssa and Junior and Jeff wanted to spend every minute he could with them. Alyssa sat beside him while he held the baby, rubbing his belly.

They talked about nothing in particular. No one was really in the mood for anything. A somber mood settled over everyone in the house as they thought about how soon most of the family would be flying off in different directions. Skyler and Preston would leave before everyone else, right after Jeff. Then it would be Ben, Jason and Chad's turn to leave. Jase, Mike, Tabitha and Cassie would be the only Thomas family members left in the house for a while. Chip and Justy would be staying on but they would miss their guys like crazy.

When Trisha arrived to pick up Alyssa and Junior, Skyler and Jeff kissed both children and gave them hugs. Jeff was in tears as the door closed and he and Skyler stood there in the foyer in each other's arms for a long moment before going to the patio for lunch.

Curly left right after lunch, hugging both Skyler and Jeff before he went. He wished them both safe trips and then made his exit. Skyler and Jeff smiled sadly at each other after Justin left. The time was growing short. They sat in the living room with the family, holding hands in silence for a while. Even Justy, Mike and Preston were quiet. They undoubtedly sensed the moods of their parents.

Skyler, Jeff and Preston went upstairs for some quiet time a little later. Jeff held Preston in his arms, kissing the side of his head and telling him how much he would miss him while he was gone. Skyler promised to video conference with him every chance he got so Jeff could see the boy.

"I love you, Blondie," Jeff said just before they went outside to the waiting SUV.

"I love you, too, Blue Eyes," Skyler said. Tears welled in his eyes as he wrapped his arms around his lover.

The whole family and Christian, Chip and Justin rode along to the airport to see Jeff off. They were going to stay in the airport and wait for the flight to Australia afterward. Skyler saw no point in returning home. They checked in all of the luggage when they got there and then they waited together for Jeff's flight to begin boarding.

After a final whispered goodbye with Skyler and one last hug and kiss for Preston, Jeff got on the plane. They watched it taxi down the runway and take off through the windows that overlooked the runways. Skyler sighed as the plane lifted off. Then he felt his mother's arms around him. He turned and put his head on her shoulder as his father took Preston from his arms.

"This is really hard," Skyler said with a quivering voice. "I feel like I'm leaving everyone."

"It's only for a few months, Skyler," she said, holding him tighter. "We'll visit and call."

"I love you, Mom," he said.

"I love you, too, Skyler," she said, holding him tighter still.

He got hugs from all of them when it was time for him to board his flight with Christian and Preston. Each member of the family told him that they loved him and would call and visit soon. He and Christian were silent as they sat in their seats in First Class. Preston was buckled in next to Skyler, and he just kept stroking the boy's hair.

"We'll be all right, Sky," Christian said once the plane was in the air.

"I know," sighed Skyler. "I just miss them all already."

The next chapter will be posted soon.