© 2005-2010 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 76

"Great show, boys," Ben said as Jason and Chad came into the dressing room. The sets for Chad's shows weren't nearly as elaborate as Skyler's had been so Ben had a lot more free time while on tour with Chad. He missed the constant work but enjoyed being able to be backstage with his sons when the show was over instead of climbing scaffolding to tear down lights and other props.

"Thanks, Dad," Chad said, beaming at him as he grabbed a towel. "The crowd was hot tonight."

"It sure was," laughed Ben. "My ears are still ringing from their screaming."

"How soon are we out of here?" Jason asked, toweling the sweat from his naked chest.

"We have to wait for a few hours," said Chad. "There are people everywhere."

"I'm starving," Jason remarked as he tossed the towel into the net hamper against the wall.

"There's food in the party room, Squirt," said Chad. "I'm going to shower first but you can go eat if you want."

"I stink," announced Jason. "Shower first, food next."

Ben laughed at the pair of them as they jogged across the long room to their dressing rooms. The workouts before each show were really filling Jason out. They were also keeping him hungry. Ben had warned him about the amount of calories it would take to keep up with the schedule the boy had made for himself. There was weightlifting to build just a little more muscle, the boy said, and jogging with Chad every morning. Then there was the actual show almost every night. Chad's routines weren't as intense as Skyler's but they kept Jason moving and the added exercise was burning more calories.

"They'll have the set down and loaded in about an hour," said Bruce Beckham as he made his way into the hall. "Where're the boys?"

"Showers," laughed Ben. "Glad you came along on this tour, Bruce. Skyler was happy to see you when you came to talk with Chad about joining the tour."

"It was great to see Skyler again," Bruce said, making Ben wonder again just how close they'd been when his sons had toured together a few years ago. "It's also great to be working with the Thomas family again. Strange not having Cassie and Skyler along."

"It is that," agreed Ben. "Skyler and Preston are in Australia and Cassie and Tabitha are back in Orlando. They're all filming."

"I read about the movie projects for each of them," Bruce replied. "There are enough familiar faces on this tour to keep me from feeling too out of place though. I like that."

"The dancers all seemed happy to see you again," remarked Ben. Chad had hired six of Skyler's dancers, bringing Tara along with Donna. Frank Cole, Danny Melonni, James D'Angelo, Robert Fulsom and Raz had been more than happy to work with Chad.

"I was happy to see everyone again," said Bruce. "I was wondering about Niki though. Any word out of her?"

"She's called a few times since we left the States to check on us," replied Ben. "I think she's missing the Thomas tours."

"I saw her on television when she refused to tour with Sky last year," Bruce commented. "That was a little shocking."

"Well Skyler's tour was a little ill advised," explained Ben. "Niki didn't want any part of it because she agreed with the doctor. In the end she and the doctor were proven right, but Skyler and Niki still haven't spoken since then."

"That's sad," Bruce said. "They were close."

"I think they'll get there again if either of them ever gets over being angry long enough to take the first step," Ben said with a sigh as he and Bruce made their way to the party room.

They were instantly in a sea of celebrities and back-stage pass holders. Ben was polite to everyone as he made his way through the groups to the food table. He made himself a quick sandwich and watched the door for any sign of his sons. Bruce was in the middle of a group of girls, talking about technical things they really didn't understand. The man was so attractive that they smiled and listened as if they'd be majoring in technical engineering in college. Ben chuckled to himself as he watched.

"I see Bruce has found his fan club," said Laura as she came to stand beside Ben.

"It looks that way," agreed Ben. "How are the numbers?"

"Rena says that the night was a hit," she replied. "The shirts are sold out as well as the hats, buttons and CDs."

"That's good," sighed Ben. "This has been a long day."

"It sure has," she replied. "I'm flying to Texas in the morning to see a show."

"Perspective client?"

"Possibly," she said. "If she's as good as everyone says I'll try to sign her while I'm there."

"What's her name?" Ben asked.

"Lilly Olin," she replied. "There are pictures of her in my briefcase upstairs. I'll show them to you on the bus."

"Singer?" he asked.

"No," she laughed. "I've had enough of those for a while. Lilly's an actress. She's done some commercial work so far, nothing big."

"Well maybe you'll change that," he replied.

"With any luck," she said as the girls in the room started screaming, alerting them that Chad and Jason had finished showering and were entering the room. "There're our boys now."

"All fresh and completely clothed," laughed Ben.

"What is it with the young men in your family?" she asked, smiling at him. "They seem to love taking off their clothes."

"Skyler started it with the no shirts thing when they were on tour together," Ben replied. "Now it's just kind of expected of Chad."

"Well it definitely isn't hurting his image," she laughed. "Clay's amazed at the ticket sales this time."

"Better than last time?"

"Well, don't tell Chad yet, but all of the shows have sold out so far," she said, smiling. "This tour is a hit."

"He'll enjoy hearing that," Ben said slowly. "He's been so worried about being known for himself since they toured together. He wanted to tour with Sky so badly, but when they actually did it he got a little tired of not being as noticed as his brother."

"Skyler is a different kind of popular than Chad," she said. "With Skyler it's a frenzy. With Chad it's a gentle breeze. They're so different in their approach to the business."

"The dancers declared Chad's show tame compared to what they're used to," laughed Ben.

"How did Chad convince Skyler's dancers to tour with him?"

"It wasn't hard," he replied. "They don't get as much work as they used to now that they've signed contracts with Skyler."

"I didn't know that his image was hurting the dancers," she said worriedly.

"It isn't his image," Ben said quickly. "The very fact that they are contracted to dance for Skyler says great things for them in the industry. It's just that because they're contracted to Skyler Thomas other entertainers are hesitant to approach any of them. The current asking price for any of the dancers is far higher than what the other entertainers want to pay them."

"Sky does pay his people very well," she said, clucking her tongue.

"Yes he does," agreed Ben. "Kaleb made enough money from the last tour to put a sizeable down payment on a house. He's asked Cassie to marry him."

"I had no idea!" she gasped.

"We're keeping it quiet for now," he said quickly. "She's accepted, but they've both agreed that they don't want to actually have a wedding for at least a year. They also don't want to press to get wind of it until they can talk to Skyler."

"That's ensuring a long engagement," she said, nodding. "Very smart on their part to hold off on announcing it as well. I'm sure Skyler will be thrilled for them."

"Oh I know he will be," agreed Ben. "He's been waiting for this since they got back after his tour. Cassie and Kaleb spent a week in Rio after the Greece concert. We completely expected to see a ring on her finger when they returned."

"Does Chad know?" she asked, looking at the young man as he smiled and hugged his guests.

"He does," replied Ben. "Kaleb talked to him before we left. I left them alone for it. They were locked in the study for two hours and came out smiling with their arm around each other so Kaleb was happy. Of course Cassie had no idea about any of that. He didn't ask her until we'd left. She called the next morning to tell us all about it."

"Congratulations," Laura beamed.

"Thanks," he replied with a smile of his own.

Two hours later he watched as his two exhausted sons dragged their feet to the bus. Jason was nearly asleep on his feet. Chad's bundle of excitement had wound down as soon as the guests started to leave the party. Now he just looked ready to tumble into his bunk. Ben wondered, again, how his sons could get used to a life like this.

"How are the boys?" asked Tabitha when he called her as the bus left the parking lot.

"Tired," he replied. "I'm not much better. I've got to get with Laura after this though."

"How was the show?"

"Good," he said. "I didn't have to close my eyes even once the whole night."

"Different than Skyler's huh?"

"Much," he said, laughing. "It isn't that I don't enjoy watching Skyler perform . . ."

"Oh I know," she said. "His shows just get a little too sexy for a parent to appreciate."

"Exactly," he replied. "I'm so damned proud of all four of them though."

"Oh, so am I," she said, a smile in her voice. "Cassie's been walking on air since the other night. Jase had to ask her to stop smiling three times during filming today. She was supposed to be crying for the scene."

"I'm so damned happy for her," Ben said, smiling. "Kiss her for me and give Kaleb a hug."

"Will do," she said. "Listen love, I'm dragging here. I love you. Tell the boys I love them as well. Have a safe night and I'll talk to you tomorrow night."

"Sure thing," he said. "Love to the gang there. I love you."

"I love you too," she said. "Good night."

"Night," he said, closing the phone with a sigh. He really missed his wife. They'd been on the road a week and all he could think of most of the time was Tabitha and how much he wished she were with him. He was still thinking about that when Laura came to sit with him.

"Too tired to take a gander at Sky High's newest potential client?" she asked as she sat at the table.

"Nope," he said, smiling. "I can sleep all day tomorrow."

"The bus will be parked at the airport for more than half the day," she informed him. "I'm flying out and Clay is flying in."

"From New York?" he asked.

"Los Angeles," she replied. "He was out there with Cory."

"How is Cory?" he asked. "I was happy to hear that he'd signed with Sky High after Barry retired."

"Cory is eager to see Skyler Thomas again," she laughed. "You know he was such a shy thing when he first started. Skyler helped with that. Skyler let him sit in on one of his early recording sessions."

"I'd heard about that," Ben said. "So, Lilly Olin?"

"Yes," she said, opening her briefcase and spreading three eight by ten photographs across the table.

Lilly Olin was a very beautiful young lady with dark hair and bright eyes. In the first picture she wore a cowboy hat and boots. She was standing in front of her family's home. Laura explained that they lived on a ranch in Texas. Horses were the family passion. Ben smiled at the thought. He liked horses himself. The second was definitely a publicity photograph, a head shot as they were called. She wasn't smiling in the picture but looked very sophisticated. All traces of her country roots were absent. The third was a shot of a play she had acted in. She was dressed in an evening gown and from the look on her beautiful face she was arguing her lines.

"She's pretty," said Chad's tired voice as he slid into the seat next to his father. "Who is she?"

"Her name is Lilly Olin," said his father. "I thought you were asleep."

"Tried," he said, smiling tiredly. "So is she new talent?"

"Yes," said Laura, smiling. "I hope so."

"Who discovered her?" he asked, turning the third picture so he could see it better.

"Actually she was referred by Chip Dodds," Laura replied. "He said I had to see her work."

"Well Chip's got good taste," said Chad with a strange expression on his face as he looked at the pictures. "I hope she has what it takes."

"Well if nothing else she has the look of a fashion model," Laura said with a sigh. Ben looked at her for a moment. Something was definitely up with Laura. She had a look in her eyes and she'd sighed a total of eight times since she'd joined him at the table. When she looked at Chad she got a sad look in her eyes that Ben didn't understand.

"Well I'm going to finish getting my things together," she said, collecting the pictures from the table. "Chad, have a great time on the tour. I'll probably rejoin the tour sometime in the near future. Please don't pull any stunts while I'm gone."

"Of course not," he laughed, "I'm Chad not Sky."

"Right," she said. That sadness filled her eyes again and Ben nearly said something before she brightened. "Well with any luck I'll have Lilly with me when I return."

"What's with her lately?" Chad asked as soon as Laura was far enough away from them that she wouldn't hear.

"I'm not sure," replied Ben. "She just seems sad all the time now. Skyler said she was getting a bit paranoid with him. Here she's just sad."

"Do you think someone should say something?" Chad asked, stifling a yawn.

"What I think is that you should get to bed," laughed Ben. Chad smiled and yawned a goodnight. "Scoot."

He thought about Laura once Chad was safely in his bunk. Something was up with her and he wondered just what it was. He'd never seen her so sad since he'd known her. As he thought about it he realized he didn't know Laura as anything more than his sons' agent. The woman never divulged information about her private life. Ben wondered why for a moment. Then he was yawning again and quickly decided that his bunk, though not exactly comfortable was calling him hard.

When he woke the bus wasn't moving. He yawned and stretched, cursing the kinks in his back. The bunks really weren't very comfortable. He got up slowly and headed for the bathroom, stopping at his little drawer in the wall to get fresh clothes along the way. As he stood in the small shower in the bathroom he thought that he was going to have to have a talk with Clay about these buses when he saw him.

Bruce was having coffee at the table when Ben came out of the bathroom. The bus was virtually empty and Ben wondered why. He grabbed a cup and allowed Bruce to fill it from the carafe that was sitting in front of him as he sat across from the man. His lower back throbbed as he sat, reminding him once again to talk to Clay.

"Where is everyone?" he asked, trying to ignore his back pain.

"Mara is holding a dance rehearsal inside the airport," explained Bruce. "They've been at it for a little over two hours."

"What time is it?" he asked.

"Just after ten," replied Bruce. "Skyler called a little while ago. I told him that one of you would call him back."

"Is Laura still with us?" Ben asked, remembering her strange behavior.

"Nope," Bruce said. "Her flight was airborne an hour ago. She's on her way to Texas."


"Not yet," he said. "Supposed to be here at one."

"Food?" Ben asked.

"On the counter," Bruce said with a smile. "After Laura left, Mara brought pastry."

"Good woman," laughed Ben. "Listen about Skyler . . ."

"He seemed to be in a good mood," Bruce cut him off. "We had a good talk. He's filming and talking to a few people from Sydney. I think he's gearing for a new office for Sky High."

"I'll call him after I eat something," said Ben. "Have you eaten?"

"I ate with Chad and Jason this morning," he replied. "Worked out with Jason. That boy seems to want to be a titan."

"I'm thinking I'm going to have to say something to him about his workouts," Ben sighed. "Did they run this morning?"

"As soon as the bus stopped," Bruce informed. "I didn't go along. Weights are one thing. Running is another entirely."

"I hear you," laughed Ben, wincing as his back let him know the pain wasn't over.

"We're off today," said Skyler when Ben called him. "Renny is taking a personal day. His family is here."

"Ah," said Ben with a smile. "Bruce said you were talking about business."

"Yeah," Skyler said excitedly. "I'm thinking of opening another branch of Sky High here in Australia."

"Have you talked to Clay and Laura about that?" Ben asked.

"Not yet," he said. "After I get some information ready I'll call Clay. He'll be with you later today right?"

"His plane is due at one," replied Ben. "Laura left this morning."

"How is she?"

"Skyler, something is going on with her," Ben said. "You said she seemed paranoid in Orlando. Here she seemed tired and sad. Especially whenever she looked at Chad. I'm worried about her."

"Is she coming back?"

"She said she was," he replied. "She's looking at an actress in Texas."

"Lilly Olin?" Skyler asked.

"That's the one," laughed Ben. "I keep forgetting that you probably know just as much about what your agent and manager are up to as they do."

"Well all I know about Clay right now is that he's with Cory Stephens," said Skyler. "He called this morning to tell me that Cory will be joining Chad's tour to watch the special shows until it's time for him to get out on stage and open at every show. I guess he's trying to get him ready."

"Something like that I suppose," Ben replied.

"Laura will be coming back to the tour after Texas right?" Skyler asked.

"She said she was," informed Ben. "She wants to bring Lilly with her."

"That's a good idea actually," Skyler said, and Ben could almost hear the wheels turning in his son's head. "So how's the show going?"

"Really good," said Ben with a smile. "All shows have sold out so far. Chad's a hit."

"That should make him happy," replied Skyler. "I know about his worries about being known only as Skyler Thomas's little brother."

"He seems happy enough," said Ben. "A number of your dancers are with us."

"I know," said Skyler. "I'm paying for them."

"Do me a favor," said Ben. "Don't tell Chad that."

"Already ahead of you there, Dad," he said. "They have orders not to tell Chad or anyone else connected to the tour who is paying them. It's all covered in Chad's confidentiality agreements."

"Good," sighed Ben, thinking that if Chad learned the truth there would be more problems. "They've pronounced this tour tame."

"I'm sure they have," laughed Skyler. "They don't have to worry though. I'll be on tour again eventually."

"No plans for any time soon though right?" Ben asked quickly.

"Right," replied Skyler, and Ben was happy to find that there was no tension in his son's voice. "Movies now. Tours much later."

"Good boy," said Ben. "I love you, Skyler."

"I love you too," replied his son. "Give the boys my love and tell my dancers to suck it up."

"Sure thing," laughed Ben. "Kiss Preston for me and say hello to Christian."

Ben talked with his construction crew after his telephone conversation with Skyler. His men were in good spirits and enjoying their day off. Most had gone into the airport to scour the gift shop and eat at the restaurant. He checked the trucks to make sure that there were no problems with the sets and laughed as he realized that there were only two trucks and one was only carrying the lighting. Chad's tours really were a lot different than Skyler's. Sets that took two hours to put up and less time to pull down were clear evidence of that.

"Hey Mr. Thomas," said Rory Camperson, the newest man on the crew. "How long are we gonna be here?"

"We're waiting on Clay Silver and Cory Stephens," replied Ben. He wasn't exactly happy with the twenty-four year old messy dark haired man's performance. Bruce had told Ben that Rory had required reminding that he was there to work and not scope out the female fans a few times. He always wore dark glasses when he wasn't working and he looked as if he'd last seen the inside of a shower stall before the tour began.

"Cool," he replied. "We leavin' for Japan soon?"

"We've got three more special shows to get through," Ben told him for the fifth time since the day before. "Then we leave for Japan and the actual tour begins."

Ben was thinking about letting Camperson go before they left for Japan. The confidentiality agreement had been signed so that wasn't a worry. Actually with Chad's tour there was never any worry that any damaging information could be leaked. Chad was the most clean cut pop star Sky High had on the roster. Letting Camperson go wouldn't make much of a difference in labor. The others on the crew weren't exactly friendly with the guy. Ben doubted that he'd miss him. Camperson had told anyone who would listen that the only reason he's applied to work on the tour was so that he could go to Europe. Ben wasn't exactly wanting to help the man get his wish.

"I see Rory found you," Bruce said as Ben got back to the bus.

"He's going to find a lot more if I can just find a reason," said Ben.

"I hear you," he replied with a smirk. "No one will be sorry to see him go."

"That makes my heart bleed," laughed Ben as they climbed aboard. "Any word on Clay and Cory?"

"The plane landed five minutes ago," said Bruce. "They're with the dancers at the moment. Last I heard Mara was wrapping things up and getting everyone ready to head back to the buses."

"Good news," sighed Ben as he slid into a seat at the table.

"Lisa is bringing lunch for everyone as well," said Bruce, sitting across from him. "No veggies and rice today."

"That's good news," said Ben with a smile. Brown rice and vegetables were expected on Skyler's tour but Chad didn't exactly need the health food.

"Did I just hear my name?" said Lisa as she came down the aisle with a huge box in her arms. The smell of hamburgers filled the air and Ben's stomach growled.

"Just the woman we've been waiting for," said Bruce, getting up to help her.

"We'll wait for the boys," laughed Lisa as they sat the box on the counter. "Clay's excited about something. Fair warning."

"Excited happy or excited angry?" Ben asked, getting up to help as well.

"Apparently there's some kind of warrant for someone on the construction crew," she said. "I didn't catch it all. The buses will stay put until the police get here."

"A warrant in Mississippi?" Ben asked, eyes wide. He couldn't even hope that it was Rory Camperson.

"Apparently," said Lisa.

"But none on the crew are even from Mississippi," mumbled Ben as he sat back down.

"Ben, the press is here," said Bruce as he looked out the window beside the sink. "And the police. Clay's out there."

"Shit," he sighed, getting up and passing them as he made his way for the door.

What he saw when he got outside was both a blessing and a curse. Rory Camperson was in cuffs and Clay was talking with someone in a suit. Ben could hear them telling Rory what he was being arrested for and his stomach threatened to expel his breakfast pastry.

* * *

"It's all over the news," Tabitha said as she held the phone to her ear and watched the television at the same time.

"Have you talked to Dad yet?" Skyler asked. She could hear the anxiety in his voice.

"I've tried to call your father three times," she said. "I can't even get in touch with Laura."

"This is bad, Mom," said Skyler. "The press is going to eat Chad alive over this."

"But Chad isn't the one who hired him," she said quickly. "Your father hired Rory Camperson."

"It's still Chad's tour," he said. "When you hear from Dad tell him to call me. Renny gave me the day off so I'll be by my phone all day."

"What about Laura or Clay?"

"They'll call me anyway," he replied.

"What did Sky say?" asked Jase as soon as Tabitha put the phone down.

"He said that the press is going to go after Chad because of this," she said, staring at the television screen.

"Just what he needs," sighed Jase. "When are those two boys going to get a break?"

"I don't think they ever will," she said. "Where's Cassie?"

"She's out with Kaleb," he replied. "They have Mike and Justy with them."

"I should call her and tell her to get back here," she said, looking at the phone again. "If the press finds her . . ."

"I'm already on it," said Chip as he opened his cell phone and began to dial. He walked out of the family room as he talked.

This wasn't what Chad needed. The boy was just starting to get out from under Skyler's shadow and now he was at the center of a huge controversy. Tabitha sighed as she watched the coverage. The fact that Jason was with them hadn't escaped her attention. She was simply trying hard not to get upset about that fact. Their father was with them as well so she could only hope that Jason and Chad were both being shielded.

Shielded. She nearly laughed at the thought. Jason was probably securely on the bus but Chad? Chad was a star and they wouldn't rest until they'd squeezed every ounce of the story out of him. Sometimes she really hated the fact that Chad and Skyler were so successful.

"They were already on their way back," said Chip as he came back into the family, closing his phone as he walked. "Cassie said that the press already found them. Kaleb thought quickly though. He got them back to the car and out of there before any reporters got close enough to take more than a picture."

"I just got off the phone with Laura," said Jase as he came back into the room. Tabitha hadn't even realized that he'd left the room. "Rory Camperson is wanted in six states for kidnapping, rape and murder."

"Sweet Jesus," moaned Tabitha. "What did she say about our guys?"

"She said that the police have nothing to say to any of our clan," he replied. "The bus is already on the road away from Jackson. They're headed to Biloxi. No problems. They even got out of there before the press could even attempt to stop them."

"Thank God," she said. "One of us should call Skyler back."

"Laura is already calling him," said Jase just as Cassie and Kaleb came in with the boys.

"Mom, what's going on?" asked Cassie as she came in.

"The police in Jackson, Mississippi arrested one of the guys on the construction crew for your brother's sets," she said. "He's wanted in six states."

"Jesus," breathed Cassie. "Does Sky know?"

"He called when he heard the initial story," replied Tabitha.

"What about Laura and Clay?" she asked, hugging her step-mother.

"I talked to Laura," said Jase. "She's in Texas and can't get away just yet. Clay is with them though. She said she talked to Clay and everything is fine with our guys. They're on the bus and the show is already on the road."

"Well that's good," she said. "So it's lock down?"

"Looks like it," said Tabitha.

The next chapter will be posted soon.