© 2005-2010 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved
"Chad," Cassie breathed as she watched the television screen and clutched Kaleb's hand. Over and over again they showed the planes crashing into the twin towers and she could only stand there and stare in horror.
"Oh dear God," moaned Tabitha as she clutched Ben's hand. "Benjamin!"
"He has to be all right, Tab," said Ben. "I doubt he lives anywhere near the towers."
"But we don't know!" she wailed in fear.
"Daddy," Cassie moaned, letting go of Kaleb's hand to walk into her father's arms. "Oh, Daddy."
"Sweetheart, he's all right," Ben said firmly, hoping and praying that he was right. Chad had to be all right.
"I'll start calling everyone to try and find out about Chad," said Kaleb as he watched Ben hold Cassie and Tabitha. "I'm sure someone will know where he is."
The scene on the television was complete chaos. They watched as the towers burned with gaping holes in them from where the planes had crashed into them. Ben wondered what was happening. How could two planes crash into the towers? How? He couldn't think. His heart ached for the people that were dead and dying in the aftermath while he clung desperately to the hope that his son wasn't even in New York.
Chad had become so distant that none of them in the family knew where he was at any given time. He never called home. He never visited. He'd changed his cell phone number and forbade anyone at Sky High to give the number to anyone in his family.
* * *
The fog was starting to dissipate in Chad's brain as he lay there in the bed. A girl lay next to him, but he wasn't exactly sure who she was. He tried to think of a name to go with the red haired girl, but thought made his foggy head ache even more. He looked around the dirty hotel room with one eye open. How long had he been staying in the room with the "Do Not Disturb" sign hanging from the door? Three days? Five? He couldn't think with the ache in his head.
Pizza boxes and room service trays littered the room. There were empty bottles of champaign and liquor in places as well. He remembered tossing an empty bottle of bourbon over his shoulder while the girl laughed at his naked antics the night before. After that everything was a blur. His memory was sketchy at best, but he thought he remembered performing a striptease on the coffee table in the living room for the girl. What was her name? He had to remember it before she woke up and got angry with him for forgetting.
Carrie, Mary, Carla, Darla . . . none of those were it, but Darla was close. He looked at her red hair fanned over the pillow and it came to him. Her name was Darby Shaw. They'd met in the hotel bar, and she'd told him she was his biggest fan. She was twenty-one years old, living with her sister in a shoe box apartment just on the other side of Beverly Hills and she had a wall full of pictures of him. This was the kind of fan he'd been wanting to find. A fan like Skyler's.
Then the television caught his eye. It was on CNN with the volume on mute. What he saw on the screen left him ogling open mouthed in disbelief. The Twin Towers! CNN was showing planes crashing into the Twin Towers! He searched the floor at the foot and on his side of the bed for the remote control. He finally found it twisted in the sheet that was wrapped around his naked body and turned the sound up. Darby moaned in protest immediately, but Chad couldn't cater to her at the moment.
It wasn't a mistake or a hoax. The reporter's voice told of the planes being hijacked and crashed into the towers one after the other. He couldn't believe it. Who would attack the towers? His foggy mind ran through a list of suspects, Al Qaeda and Iraq to name a few. Then he thought of his family and where he'd been the last time he'd spoken with any of them. He'd been in his apartment in New York. He quickly found the phone and dialed Orlando.
"Dad?" he said when he heard his father's voice on the other end of the call.
"Chad, thank God!" his father said. "We've been worried sick about you, son. Where are you?"
"Dad, I'm not in New York," he said quickly. "I'm in LA."
"Who are you talking to?" moaned Darby, sitting up and grabbing her head. "Oh, mother of all hangovers happening here."
"Is someone with you, son?" Ben asked. Chad didn't miss the disappointment in his father's voice. He'd no doubt heard Darby say something about a hangover.
"I've gotta go, Dad," he said quickly. "Just tell everyone that I'm all right. I'll call again later."
He snapped his phone shut with a sigh. They'd been worried sick. He was sure they were more worried about Skyler than him. With a sigh he turned to look at Darby and suddenly felt better. She was a very beautiful young woman.
* * *
"There was a young lady in the background," said Ben with sad eyes. "At least he's alive and not in New York."
"What did he say?" Cassie asked, looking at her father with an expectant expression.
"He said to tell everyone he's fine and not to worry," he replied. "He'll call later, he said."
Cassie sat down on the sofa, turning her face away from the television screen. She didn't want to watch the carnage anymore. What was happening was terrible, but she didn't think she needed a play by play account of it. People were dying in New York. She felt bad for only worrying about Chad when so many people were losing their lives. It was selfish and she was ashamed.
"I just talked to Skyler," Kaleb said as he came back into the living room. "He says the last time he knew where Chad was he was in LA."
"I've spoken to Chad, Kaleb, thank you," said Ben, clutching Tabitha tighter. "He's in LA and he's just fine. How is Skyler doing?"
"He's a little shaken," said Kaleb, looking from Ben to Cassie and back. "He said to tell everyone that he loves them and he'll get home as soon as he can."
"Well of course he's shaken," said Tabitha. "He's stuck in Sydney without family to comfort him."
"Jeff is with him," said Cassie. "That's family, Mom."
"Yes, of course Jeff is family," Tabitha said quickly. "I'm upset and I wasn't thinking. I'd forgotten that Jeff was with him."
"Who expects anyone to think at a time like this," said Ben, wrapping his arms around his wife. "This is just too horrible."
"The boys are safe," she said, clutching him. "That's what's important. They're all safe."
* * *
"So Chad's all right?" Jeff asked as Skyler snapped his cell shut with a sigh.
"He only answered the phone to tell me he was fine and then hung up," replied Skyler. "But yes, he's fine."
"Well that's a relief," sighed Jeff, taking Skyler into his arms. "That's one less thing to worry about."
"I've still got to worry about Chip's reaction to Shane and Robert coming to Sydney," Skyler informed. "They're plane was in the air when this started. It hasn't landed yet."
"But they're fine," said Jeff.
"I realize that," replied Skyler. "However, you don't know Chip's relationship with Shane."
"No I don't," agreed Jeff. "They're brothers. It should be all right."
"If only it was that simple," Skyler sighed, pulling away from his lover. "We have to get to the airport."
"I'll let Helen know what we're up to," said Jeff. "Should I get Brody?"
"Brody's at the studio," reminded Skyler. "He'll be there for the rest of the day."
"Right," said Jeff before he left the room.
Ten minutes later the pair were in an SUV headed for the airport. Chip and Christian were still on the set with Justin so Skyler wasn't worried about Chip finding out about Shane just yet. Of course that would change when Skyler arrived at the studio with Shane. After all Shane would be working with Jase. This could blow up in Skyler's face. His nerves were frazzled and he was still angry with his brother for being so stupid.
The flight was on time, shocking Skyler and Jeff when they arrived. Shane and Robert were standing at the baggage claim when the pair found them. Skyler shook their hands while his security helped to gather luggage. They made their way back through the airport to the waiting SUV, but the press was gathered in front of the airport. Skyler cursed silently when he saw them. He'd planned to tell Chip about Shane and Robert's arrival, but the press had likely beat him to it.
"So our brother doesn't know we're here?" Robert asked when they were in the SUV and headed away from the screaming press. He looked a lot like Chip, both twins did.
"Well he didn't know you were coming," said Skyler. "I think the press may have taken care of that though."
"So he doesn't know that you've hired us?" Shane asked. Of the two of them, Shane looked older. Skyler surmised that it was the drug use that had aged Shane Dodds.
"I wasn't sure how to tell him, to be honest," sighed Skyler. "I was well aware of the relationship between the two of you when I hired you. I can't let personal relationships get in the way of business though, and it was Christian who talked me out of saying anything in the end. He wanted to be the one to talk to Chip about this. I just hope he's talked to him about it by now."
* * *
"What the Hell?" Chip Dodds cried through clenched teeth as he watched the television in Justin's trailer. "What is Shane doing here?"
"Now Chip you've got to calm down," Christian said quickly, silently cursing the press for beating him to telling his lover about this. "Shane and Robert were hired by Skyler . . ."
"What?" snapped Chip. "Why would Skyler hire Shane? Robby I can understand. He's got contacts in the industry with his running around trailing after Maria Cosco, but Shane?"
"Shane has been doing some freelance work for Sky High, Chip," said Christian. "Skyler wanted to tell you, but I asked him not to. I wanted to be the one to tell you."
"And when were you planning to do that?" Chip asked icily.
"Chip, calm down," urged Christian.
"Don't tell me to calm down," snapped Chip. "What are they doing in Sydney?"
"They're here because Robert is going to be working with Brody for a while," said Christian. "Shane has been assigned to Jase."
"What?" Chip nearly screamed. "He's been assigned to the director that's in charge of my son?"
* * *
"So this is Sky High Sydney?" Robert Dodds asked as the SUV that he was traveling in with Skyler, Jeff and his brother, Shane, came to a stop in front of the large building.
"This is our home base in Australia," Skyler said, nodding. "You're going to be here with Brody today, Robert."
They got out of the vehicle and made their way inside with security tightly around them. There were no reporters to deal with now that they were away from the airport, and Skyler wanted to get the guys situated and let them work. Brody was neck deep in the recording of his album. He needed Robert. Jase was nearly ready to wrap shooting, and Shane would need to see what Jase was like at the end of a shoot. There was no time to transition them into the fold.
Skyler answered Robert's questions as the elevator took them to the twentieth floor. Once there they met in the board room with Michael Bloom and Rod Durundi, the management and agent team that was handling Brody's career. Clay Silver was also seated in the room as he was helping Michael acclimate to his new job. They all stood as the group entered the room.
"Robert Dodds," Skyler said, placing a hand on the man's back. "This is Michael Bloom, Rod Durundi and, of course Clay Silver. They have your contract and I'm going to leave you in their capable hands."
"Sounds good," he replied, smiling at each of the men in turn.
"Guys, how's Brody doing?" Skyler asked the team.
"He's doing just fine," said Rod. "He's recorded three tracks today and is currently having lunch with Paula and Stan."
"Sounds good," Skyler said. "At this rate he'll be finished recording by the end of the week."
"It looks that way," Clay agreed, smiling. "He's very talented."
"Of course he is," laughed Skyler. "He's a Sky High client."
"You're as confident as ever," Clay said, winking at Skyler.
"We've got a good thing going here, Clay," he replied.
"We sure do," laughed Clay.
"Well I need to get Shane to Jase," Skyler said, nodding at each of them. "Robert, you're in good hands."
"Thanks, Sky," said Robert.
They left the building and climbed back into the SUV to head across the city to the studio owned by Disney where Jase was shooting. Skyler's nerves were a bit unsteady as they pulled into the studio parking lot. He hoped that Christian had Chip under control. He didn't want a scene with so many people there to witness it. As they got out of the vehicle he noticed that a scene was likely. Chip and Christian were being tailed by two of the security guards for Disney, and Chip didn't look happy.
"What the hell is this, Skyler?" Chip barked when he got to the group. "You know this isn't acceptable!"
"Chip, calm down," Skyler said quickly. "This is a business decision and doesn't reflect our personal relationship."
"Oh yes it does," snapped Chip, shrugging off the warning hand that Christian placed on his shoulder. "I want Shane out of here."
"That's just not going to happen," sighed Skyler, glaring at Christian. "Shane was hired to assist Jase, and that's exactly what he's going to do."
"I don't want him around Justin," Chip said, glaring at his younger brother. Shane just looked uncomfortable.
"Chip, I'm not having this conversation with you right now," Skyler said, struggling to keep his voice tightly controlled. "Jase is expecting us, and I won't keep him waiting."
"Then I'll just collect my son and we'll head back to the States," snapped Chip.
"First of all, you signed a contract with both Sky High and Disney for this film, not to mention the six pictures you signed with Sky High for," Skyler said, losing his grip on control. "Second, you won't be leaving Australia with all flights into the States canceled until further notice."
"Skyler, how could you?" Chip asked, glaring at his friend.
"Chip, this was a business decision," Skyler said again. "I'm sorry if you can't accept that. I have to get Shane to Jase. Then we'll talk."
"I don't want to talk about this, Skyler Thomas," yelled Chip. The two security guards looked antsy now. "I want my son off this picture."
"Are you prepared to repay the advance from both studios?" snapped Skyler. "Because that's what it will take to get Justin off this picture. You know Disney will sue for breach of contract, Chip. Do you really think that our friendship will stop Sky High from doing the same thing?"
"Fuck you, Skyler," hissed Chip, turning and stalking back toward the trailers.
Skyler watched him go with carefully controlled fury. He couldn't believe how angry Chip was about this. It wasn't as if he'd put Justin in the care of Shane. He was sure that Jase was professional enough to keep the peace, but he knew he had to warn his uncle about the hornet's nest he'd be creating by leaving Shane on the set.
As it turned out, Jase was taking a break. The actors had all been sent to their trailers while Jase went over a few key points of the script with Disney and the writer. Skyler's group caught up to them in the offices, and Jase smiled when he saw them. One look at Skyler's stern face and the smiled slipped from his face.
"Bad day, Sky?" he asked.
"You could say that," Skyler replied. "Jase Thomas, this is Shane Dodds. Your new assistant. I should warn you that Chip Dodds is not happy about this, and he's threatening to take Justin and leave."
"We're not done filming," Jase said slowly as the two executives from Disney tensed.
"I'm aware of that," Skyler sighed. "I've warned him about both companies suing him for breach of contract. I don't think he'll actually leave the studio with Justin until you release the actors for the day. I just wanted to warn you about his attitude."
"I'll take care of it," Jase said quickly.
"Thanks, Jase," Skyler said with a tired sigh. "I'm sorry about this."
"No," Jase said. "You have nothing to be sorry for. Chip will calm down. Once he sees that he can't get out of Justin's contracts he'll be all right."
"I hope so," replied Skyler. "We've got to get back to Preston."
"Kiss him for me," Jase said with a smile. "How's Mike doing with Helen?"
"Great," Skyler said, smiling back at him. It was good to discuss the children. That was one area where the stress level was very low. "She's got him doing all kinds of activities. He's having a lot of fun."
"Good," Jase said. "I've been a little worried about him lately. He's been missing his mom a lot."
"I'll hug him tight," Skyler said.
"Love you, brat."
"Love you, too, Jase," Skyler said with a smirk before he followed Jeff out of the offices and back to the waiting SUV.
* * *
Chad wrapped a towel around his thinning body as he stepped out of the shower. He could hear music playing in the suite and smiled when he recognized his own voice. Darby was listening to his music. That made him feel good. He'd finally found a fan that was a bit fanatical. The thought made him chuckle. It seemed he might just be moving out from under Skyler's shadow after all.
He crept through the bedroom and into the living room as quietly as possible. He smiled again as he heard her humming along to the song. She was bent over the desk, writing something that Chad couldn't see. He came to stand directly behind her and saw that she wasn't writing. She was drawing something. On closer inspection he realized that she wasn't just drawing. She was designing, and what she was working on looked great.
"Hey beautiful," he said softly, smiling as she straightened.
"All clean?" she asked without turning to face him.
"Yes, ma'am," he laughed. "What are you working on?"
"Oh, just some sketches," she said, closing the large leather portfolio-style sketch book and turning to face him. "Nothing important."
"Looked good to me," he said, smiling at her.
"Thanks," she said, wrapping her arms around his waist. "You smell good."
"Hotel soap," he chuckled.
"Mmm," she said, snuggling into his stomach and noticing his thin appearance. "Your ribs are showing, Chad."
"Just a little bit," he argued gently, noticing the pink slips next to the phone on the desk. "Who called?"
"Someone named Kurt Cassle," she said. "He's called six times and says he really needs to talk to you."
"The creature stirs," sighed Chad. He pulled back from her slightly and bent to kiss her on top of the head as an idea struck him. "Hey, would you like to come and watch me record?"
"You mean it?" she asked, excitement lighting her eyes.
"Sure," he said, smiling at her. "Just let me call Kurt back to find out when I'm supposed to be in the studio."
Darby went back to sketching while he was on the phone. He watched her as he talked to Kurt. The man was irate about not being able to stay in touch with Chad. He reminded Chad that he was on probation with Sky High and that keeping his appointments was paramount to keeping his contracts with the company. Chad sighed. He wasn't going to be ejected from Sky High. He was family. Still he apologized to Kurt for ignoring his phone calls and promised to be in the studio in an hour.
True to his word, they were at Sky High Los Angeles an hour later. Chad was sitting in the recording booth, smiling at Darby. After a lot of arguing on his part, Darby was seated in the control booth next to Kurt and Ronnie. They'd given him a lot of grief about having her there, but he told them he wasn't recording if she couldn't stay. Kurt wasn't happy about it. Ronnie was even more unhappy about it, but they had a deadline to keep. Chad chuckled to himself, fully aware that they could hear him.
"All right, Chad," said Ronnie. "We're going to start the tape. Just relax."
"Right," Chad said, rolling his eyes as he smiled at Darby. "Let's do this."
The music started, and Chad started to sing. He was half way through the opening of the song when Ronnie stopped him. He nearly snapped at the man, but one look at Darby stopped him. He didn't want to be an ass with her watching. She liked him, and he wanted her to keep liking him.
"Chad, where you racing to, man?" Ronnie asked. "Just follow the beat. We'll get there."
"Right," he said, silently fuming.
The music started again and he began to sing. He made it just a bit further before Ronnie stopped him again. He sighed as Ronnie told him to slow it down a notch. He got a lecture about being too eager once again, and he wanted to rip the man's head off. Darby's being there wouldn't keep him calm much longer if this kept up. With a sigh he nodded and the music began again.
"I'll have this feelin' 'till the day that I die . . . when I hear my baby callin'. A simple motion, a look in her eyes and I am helplessly fallin'. I'd give all of somebody else for any piece of her heart that's left. She knows me better than I know myself.
"Let me tell you 'bout the way she loves me. Ooh, I want the whole world to know. I'm crazy 'bout the way she loves me. Ooh, I'm proud to let it show. Yeah, yeah, yeah."
Ronnie gave him a demeaning thumbs up as he waited for his next queue in the music. Darby was smiling at him though. She made it all worth it.
"Came close to lettin' this train pass me by just like a fool second guessin'. I could've spent my life woderin' why I didn't cherish the blessing. If I'd have known she'd come my way the lonely nights would've been okay. I have her promise that she's gonna stay.
"Let me tell you 'bout the way she loves me. Ooh, I want the whole world to know. I'm crazy 'bout the way she loves me. Ooh, I'm proud to let it show. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
"Nobody else could do me so right. A breath of Heaven in my darkest night. I'm gonna hold on with all my might!
"Let me tell you 'bout the way she loves me. Ooh, I want the world to know. I'm crazy 'bout the way she loves me. Ooh, I'm proud to let it show. Let me tell you 'bout the way she loves me. Ooh, I want the world to know. I'm crazy 'bout the way she loves me. Ooh, proud to let it show.
"My baby loves me. Oh, she loves me. Yeah, yeah, yeah!
"Let me tell you 'bout the way she loves me. Ooh, I want the world to know. I'm crazy 'bout the way she loves me. Ooh, I'm proud to let it show. Yeah, yeah, yeah!"
"That was perfect, Chad," Ronnie said through his headset. "Come on in here and have a listen."
Chad winked at Darby's excited face as he took off his headset and headed into the booth. She smiled at him with enthusiastic eyes as he sat beside her and put his arm around her. She slid closer to him and whispered in his ear about how great he was. Chad loved every minute of it. He was kissing her neck as the song began to play back. He paid absolutely no attention to Ronnie's praise and didn't see the man's disapproving gaze. He had to have her. Now.
He stood, tugging Darby to her feet and announced that they would be taking a short break. He smiled at Darby, never taking his eyes off her as he tugged her out of the control booth. Ronnie watched him go in open-mouthed disbelief as Kurt shook his head. They'd both been warned about Chad Thomas's antics, but this was unreal.
They giggled like school children as Chad led her by the hand. He tried every door they passed until he found an empty board room. She gasped as he lifted her and sat her on the table, pulling her close to him so that she had to spread her legs to allow for the contact. He put his hand under her black skirt, clawing at her panties while his other hand fumbled with the buttons of his fly, growling as he buried his face in her neck.
"Do you want this as bad as I do?" he taunted, pulling back and then lunging in to kiss her lips before she could answer.
Her heart was slamming in her chest as he finally ripped the lacy black panties aside. She gasped as he entered her and thought fleetingly about the fact that they weren't using protection. She couldn't think any longer as he slammed his hips against her, driving himself deeper. She threw her head back as he roughly pulled at her shirt so that he could plant kisses between her breasts.
She bit her lip to keep from crying out as the waves of pleasure cascaded over her. Chad was grinning at her and she couldn't stand it. She lunged forward and locked her lips with his, breathing heavily through her nose as she assaulted him with her tongue. She wanted it as bad as he did all right. She couldn't believe how much she wanted it.
Chad shivered as she clamped her teeth down on his tongue. He was giddy from the scent of her perfume, amazed by the heat of her body and loving the fact that he was doing this right there in Skyler's board room. He brought his hips to meet her pelvis over and over, oblivious of the door opening. He was too far gone to notice the shocked face of the janitor who stood, taking in the scene before him.
When their passion was spent they tried to be as quiet and stealthy as possible. Neither had even an idea that they'd been discovered, no idea that the janitor had talked to two people about what he'd seen already. Those two people had told others. Word had already made it back to Rod and Kurt. Word had spread all over the building, and unfortunately for Chad Thomas a tabloid reporter happened to be in the building. Even worse for Chad was the photographer that was stealthily snapping photographs of the couple as they came out of the board room. One photo would prove to be the most damaging, for it happened that Chad was buttoning the top button of his jeans while Darby was tugging at her shirt to try and get it back into shape. That picture was worth a thousand words all by itself.
* * *
"With a father like that, the kid's doomed," said Steve Jeffries as he and Jase packed up for the day.
Chip had been relentless for the second half of the day after Skyler had brought Shane to the set. He snapped at everyone any time that Shane was within five feet of Justin. It had caused the shooting schedule to run late because Justin was affected by his father's ranting. Jase had talked with Chip and gotten nowhere. Chip Dodds wasn't in the mood to hear from anyone with the Thomas name. It had gotten so ugly that Jase thought about banning Chip from the set. There was always Christian Kane to watch over Justin's best interests.
"This has been a very long day," sighed Jase as Shane came into the office, carrying bags.
"It has," Shane agreed. "If it would make things easier I could just go back to the States and let you find another assistant."
"No," Jase said quickly. "Skyler hired you. That's final. You've done a great job today, Shane. I won't have you run off by the parent of one of the stars."
"Jase, to be honest I don't know how much more of Chips hatred I can stand," Shane said, looking down at his feet. "It's hard having your big brother hating you."
"I can imagine," Jase said, thinking about the argument that he'd had with Ben when they were younger and how long it had taken them to get past it. "I hope, for both of your sakes that he comes around soon."
* * *
"Ms. Ullman, we can't put the surgery off much longer," said Doctor Williams. She was an older woman, very close to Laura's age. She'd survived breast cancer herself. That was the reason that Laura had saught out the tawny haired woman. She'd seen understanding in her emerald eyes the first time they'd met. "You really have to make a decision."
"I can't tell them now," Laura sighed. They'd been over this a few times already. She didn't want to tell Clay and Skyler that she could be dying when so much tragedy had happened just so recently. She couldn't do it. "We have to wait just a little bit longer."
"Laura," said the doctor with compassion in her eyes as she reached across the desk and took Laura's hand in one of hers. "We don't have a lot of time. You need the surgery as quickly as possible. The cancer could spread if we don't act now."
Laura sighed, gripping the doctor's hand. She fought her tears, refusing to break. It had been so hard before Skyler left for Australia. He was like a son to her. She loved him so much, and she knew how much he cared for her. How could she tell him that this was happening to him when he was stuck on another continent? How could she tell Clay? He was stuck with Skyler.
"I don't have any family left, Doctor Williams," she said finally. Her voice wavered but she didn't cry. "What I have now are my clients. One of them is very special to me. He's like a son. I can't tell him this while he's stuck on another continent. He'd want to be here."
"I understand," replied the doctor. "I truly do, Laura. We just can't put this off any longer."
Laura looked into the doctor's eyes as she finally lost her battle with the tears. She was going to have to tell Skyler and Clay while they were in Australia with no way to get back to the States for the surgery. She'd have to tell Cassie and Tabitha. She knew that they'd keep Skyler informed but it wasn't the same thing. God help her she didn't want to die, but she didn't want to do this to them either. She looked down at her hand in the doctor's and sighed.
"I'll call them tonight," she said, wiping her face with her free hand.
"We'll get you admitted tonight," said Doctor Williams.
* * *
"So what do you want to do for the rest of the day?" Jeff asked as Skyler sat beside him on the couch to watch Preston play with his toys in front of them on the floor.
"I just want to sit here for a while and watch peace happening on the living room floor," he replied with a sigh. "It's been such a long day."
"I know," agreed Jeff. "I still can't get over Chip."
"I was expecting some anger," admitted Skyler. "I wasn't prepared for the venom."
"What happened between Chip and Shane?" Jeff asked, putting his arm around Skyler and pulling him closer.
"Well I'm not exactly sure," replied Skyler. "I told you that Shane had to spend some time in a rehabilitation clinic right?"
"You did," said Jeff. "He's kicked the drug though."
"Yes he has," agreed Skyler. "When I sat down with him in New York he told me that he and Chip weren't on speaking terms. He left it at that. I guess I probably should have asked a few questions at that point, but I wanted to give him a shot."
"His references checked out," Jeff said. "Why wouldn't you?"
"Right," sighed Skyler. "He's good at what he does, and I needed someone like him for Jase's assistant. Chip will just have to get over this. They've got a few more days of shooting and then he won't have to have anything to do with Shane."
They were interrupted by a loud banging on the front door. The noise startled Preston and the child looked up at his fathers with wide eyes. Skyler flinched when the banging started. He knew who it had to be. He wasn't looking forward to this confrontation, and he damned sure wasn't going to allow it in front of his son.
"I'll get it, Sky," said Jeff. "You take Preston to the bedroom."
"Thanks," he said, getting up and quickly scooping his son into his arms. He nearly ran out of the room with him.
"Now stop right there, Chip," Jeff said when the man tried to push past him as soon as the door was opened. "Skyler had to take Preston in the other room because you scared the poor kid. This isn't happening here."
"Get out of my way, Jeff," Chips replied through clenched teeth. "I have to have a word with Skyler."
"You're not coming in this apartment, Chip," said Jeff. "Not with Preston here. Now go back downstairs and wait for me to call you."
"No," he said. "I want to talk to Skyler now."
Jeff was about to shove him back so he could slam the door when just about every one of Skyler's security and his own that had come with them to Sydney was suddenly in the hallway. Other celebrities and their security was now standing in opened doorways to watch the scene.
"Mr. Dodds," said Brent, touching his shoulder as he spoke. "You're going to have to leave the floor. Now we'll walk you back to your own apartment, but you are not getting in that one. You're being warned here. We will take you down."
"Brent, back off!" Chip yelled, turning to face the man.
"Mr. Dodds, you know that my job is to protect the three people in that apartment," he said, pointing at Jeff. "You have been asked to leave. Now if you don't want to go on your own I'm sure we can make this even more unpleasant for you than it is right now."
"You can tell Skyler Thomas that I won't forget this," snapped Chip before he shoved past Brent and walked down the hall.
"We've got this," said Jim Cole, Jeff's own security man as he and the others followed behind Chip, leaving Brent in front of the door.
"Jeff, are Skyler and Preston all right?" Brent asked once they were down the hall.
"The pounding scared Preston," said Jeff. "Skyler has him in the bedroom."
"When he's ready please tell him to come and talk with me about this," Brent said softly, backing out the door.
"Sure thing, Brent," said Jeff. "I'm sure he's going to want to talk to you about this."
Jeff was closing the door after Brent left when Skyler called his name from the bedroom. He went into the bedroom and wrapped his arms around his lover as he looked over the man's shoulder at his sleeping son. He was so angry with Chip for his attitude. If he had a problem with Skyler he should have waited until he knew that Preston wouldn't be in there to get hurt or upset.
"I'm all right," Skyler said. "I was just trying to keep Preston away from it."
"I know," said Jeff, letting go of him. "Maybe I was the one who wasn't all right. Sky, I wanted to break his fucking neck for him."
"He's just upset . . ."
"Don't make excuses for him, Skyler," Jeff said coldly. "There is no excuse for what he did with Preston so close. No excuse at all."
"No, you're right about that," Skyler said. "I was only going to say that he was upset about Shane if you were just worried about his yelling at me."
"I don't like that he thinks it's completely OK to scream at you either," said Jeff. "But it isn't acceptable at all to bring that kind of bullshit around our son."
* * *
"What the Hell were you thinking?" Christian snapped when Chip walked into the apartment they shared and slammed the door.
"What are you talking about?" Chip demanded, glaring at his lover.
"Going up there to scream at Skyler with Preston in the apartment!" Christian said coldly. "How would you feel if Skyler came down here to scream at you in front of Justin? Never mind the fact that Justin is thirteen years old!"
"What the fuck are you so upset about?" snapped Chip.
"I grew up with an alcoholic father who screamed all the time, Chip!" yelled Christian. "I grew up in fear from all of his screaming. You just went upstairs and basically did the same thing that my father did to me only you did it to a baby!"
"I was angry," he said quickly.
"I don't care if you were crazy!" snapped Christian. "You had no right. So you and your brother don't get along. So you don't like the fact that he's Jase's assistant. What does any of this have to do with Skyler's company? He hired him, yes, but he didn't do it to piss you off. You just seem to think you're so important that everyone's every thought centers around you. Well guess what, you're not that important. Damn it, Chip! You have Justin so nervous his voice shakes when he talks. Jase is ready to ban you from the set, and you threatened to break Justin's contract. Do you know what that will do?
"Never mind the lawsuit, which you'll lose," he continued, yelling louder. "What about Justin? Do you think that anyone in this business will work with him again if you don't shut the Hell up and act like an adult?"
"I don't want Justin in this business," Chip said hotly.
"Well guess what, Daddy, you don't have a choice now," Christian snapped. "You signed a contract. Besides, Justin has talent. He loves what he's doing. So if you don't want to alienate your son, I suggest you just keep your damned mouth shut. He only has a week or so of shooting before he doesn't have to go back to the set anymore anyway."
* * *
"So I think it's time that we discuss Justin Dodds," said Jase when he and Shane got to Skyler's apartment. "I've already heard about Chip coming here and throwing some kind of fit. I want to know if you can guarantee me that if I ban his father from my sets that Justin will still come to film his scenes."
"I know that if he doesn't we'll sue is ass," Skyler said quickly. "They can't leave Australia. All flights are suspended until further notice."
"I thought that was just flights in and out of the States," said Jase.
"Australia now as well," informed Skyler.
"Well then I'm officially banning Chip Dodds from my sets," said Jase.
"All right," said Skyler. "I'll alert everyone at Sky High tomorrow that there might be a problem. I'm sure we'll be all right though."
"Let's hope so," said Jase. "We're nearly finished shooting."
"How was Shane's first day, other than his brother's lunacy?" Skyler asked, smiling at Shane.
"He was a God send," said Jase. "We're a perfect fit. I'll keep him. Thanks."
"I'm glad to hear it," said Skyler, smiling. "As soon as shooting is over for this movie, I promise you won't have to put up with Chip anymore. I'm sorry guys."
"You have nothing to be sorry for," said Jase. "You were completely professional. Chip is the one who went insane."
"Well enough about Chip," said Skyler. "I'll just be happy when I get my album done and we can all go back to the States."
"Well I have something else to discuss with you," Jase said, smiling at his nephew.
"How would you like to read the script for the movie that I want you to take a staring role in?" Jase asked, holding up a large, thick envelope.
"You're serious," Skyler said, taking the envelope from him.
"Of course," laughed Jase. "It'll have to wait until we can get back to the states, but that's the script. You can start writing music for the soundtrack whenever you're ready."
"Let me read the script first," chuckled Skyler.
"You're going to love it," said Jase with an excited smile on his face.
"I expect to," replied Skyler, smiling back at him. "You want me to star in this one, huh?"
"Oh yeah," Jase said. "Believe me. The part is perfect for you."
"Is this the one about the rock star?" Skyler asked as he took the script out of the envelope and began to thumb through it. Bold, black letters spelled out Out of Control across the front cover.
"That's the one," said Jase. "Remember we've already talked about the soundtrack."
"Right," said Skyler. "I'll still want to read the script first."
"Sounds good," said Jase. "I guess I'll get down the hall and feed my son."
"Thanks, Jase," said Skyler.
"Being professional," he said.
"Always," Jase said with a smirk.
Skyler and Shane sat at the table in Skyler's kitchen after Jase had gone to his own apartment to wait for Clay and Robert. Skyler had rented an apartment in the building for Shane and Robert to share and he wanted to show it to them both at the same time. They weren't waiting long. Clay arrived with Robert and Brody just a few minutes after Jase left the apartment. Skyler had to wait a bit to take Robert and Shane to their apartment though. He had to address the excited bundle of energy that was Brody Tanzek.
"Clay says we're ready to shoot my first video!" he said, grinning from ear to ear almost as soon as they were in the apartment.
"That's great, Brody," Skyler said, smiling at his excitement.
"I want you in the video," said Brody, shocking Skyler.
"You want me in your music video?"
"Yeah," said Brody. "The song is about you, so why not?"
"You're talking about the song about a pop star?" Skyler asked.
"That's the one," he said quickly. "So will you?"
"Well sure, I guess," Skyler said, looking from him to Clay and back.
"Brody, you'll have to let Jackson decide what to do with the video first," Clay said, interrupting whatever it was that Brody was going to say next.
"But I still want Skyler in the video," Brody said. "Jackson won't have a problem with that, will he?"
"I'm sure he won't," said Skyler. "We'll wait for him to get here, though."
"Oh," Brody said, smiling. "All right. Sure."
"Meanwhile, I have a script to read," Skyler said, smiling at Clay.
"Yeah," he said. "He dropped it today."
"I thought he wanted to film that in New York," he said.
"Well yeah," said Skyler, losing his smile as he thought about New York and the state it was in now. "He said we won't start filming until we're back in the States."
"I'll have something for you to look at pretty soon, too," said Clay. "There's a stretch of property about twenty miles outside the city that I want you to look at. It's all for sale, and I was thinking you might want to buy it and use it for Sky High."
"What kind of property?" Skyler asked. Clay had his attention now.
"Well it used to be a ghost town attraction," explained Clay. "The buildings only looked rustic though. They're all very modern on the inside. There are several buildings, but I've convinced the owners to sell the entire property to us instead of breaking it up into pieces."
"It sounds interesting," Skyler said. "We could use the grounds for studio sets maybe."
"That's what I thought when I saw them," said Clay. "Bring Jase along when you go look. He'll know better than either of us what can be used as a studio set and what can't."
"Well even if none of the buildings can be used the way they are, I'm sure that with construction they can be made to work," said Skyler. "As soon as air traffic is back to normal I'll get my dad over here to look at the buildings. He can tell me what can and can not be done with any of them."
"We have a status meeting with Jase tomorrow just after lunch," said Clay. "Then I thought we could drive out there so you can see the place yourself."
"That sounds good," said Skyler as Jeff came into the apartment with dinner.
"Clay," he said, as the man moved aside so Jeff could get into the kitchen. "You guys staying for dinner?"
"No," said Clay. "I'll walk these two to their apartment and then head back to the office to finish up with Rod."
* * *
Skyler stood in the building that had once served as the ghost town's saloon . Outside the building looked like an old west saloon all right, but inside it was a modern bar with pool tables and pinball machines. He could see this building in use by various actors and actresses. There were fifty-seven buildings in all, and Jase was sure that most could be used as studio sets with a few modifications made first. There were quite a few barns that could hold animals when they were needed for any of the films that would be filmed there.
They'd seen the house that the aging couple lived in that sat on the edge of the property. Skyler loved it on sight. Sure it would need some alterations to get it ready for what he wanted, but he was set on living in it while he was in Australia. He talked with the owners of the ghost town and asked them what their asking price was. He found it to be pretty low and told them he'd have a check cut for them the next morning.
"So you bought it?" Jase asked as they got back into the SUV to head back to the apartment building.
"I'm going to tomorrow," he said, smiling at Jase. "I'm going to rename it though."
"What are you going to call it?"
"The Sky High Ranch," he said, smiling wider.
"I think it's got lots of potential," said Jase. "And I like the name."
"Did you see that huge building that was half in the ground?" Skyler asked.
"I saw it, but I didn't go inside," said Jase.
"They told me that it has six hundred rooms," said Skyler. "I think that's where all of the offices will go."
"What about lodging?"
"I'm going to have Dad build a few apartment buildings on the outer edge of the property," he replied.
"By your house?"
"No," he laughed. "The other outer edge."
"I see," Jase said, laughing with him.
"So how was Chip this morning?" Skyler asked, dropping the smile.
"He isn't allowed on the set anymore," said Jase. "He started to make a stink about leaving Justin there, but Christian said he'd stay and watch over him. Chip finally just left. I haven't heard a peep out of him since."
"Good," said Skyler.
"Look, Sky, I know the guy is supposed to be our friend, but . . ."
"I know, Jase," Skyler said, cutting him off. "Believe me. I know."
"But we only have a handful of scenes left to shoot and then Justin Dodds doesn't have to be on the set anymore," said Jase as they pulled into the parking garage of the apartment building that was virtually taken over by Sky High clients.
"It's just sad that Chip has started to act this way," said Skyler. "I worry about the future and Justin's career."
"Yeah," sighed Jase. "If things like this keep happening Justin won't have a career until he's old enough to get away from his father."
"That's what I'm afraid of," sighed Skyler as they got out of the SUV and headed for the elevator.
"Well maybe it won't be like this long," said Jase. "The kid's thirteen. In three years he'll be able to pretty much travel around without his father. All he'll need is someone from Sky High."
"He'll have it," said Sky.
Skyler thought about it as they walked to his apartment from the elevator. Justin's career would be in jeopardy if Chip didn't wise up and keep his mouth shut. He didn't have to be happy about every aspect of his son's career, but he didn't have to destroy it either. He was still thinking about it when they walked into the apartment and Jeff hugged him.
"Hey," he said, holding Skyler tight. "Laura called. She said to call her back and that it's important. The number's by the phone."
"All right," said Skyler before kissing him. "Did she say what it was about?"
"No," he said. "She sounded strange to me, like she'd been crying."
"I'll call her now," he said going over to the phone and reading the number that Jeff had printed on the message paper. He asked the operator to place the international call for him and then waited for Laura to answer.
"Hello?" came her voice.
"Laura, it's Skyler," he said. "What's going on?"
"Skyler . . ." she broke off, and Skyler could hear her crying.
"Laura, what is it?" he asked quickly.
"Oh, Skyler," she said. "I'm so sorry to have to tell you this now."
"Tell me what?" he asked. He was starting to get scared.
"I'm in the hospital in Los Angeles, Skyler," she said.
"Laura, what's happened?" he asked.
"I have breast cancer, Skyler," she said, crying. "I'm having a double mastectomy today."
"Oh, Laura," he sighed, sitting down at the table.
The Way She Loves Me is a song by Richard Marx.
The next chapter will be posted soon.