© 2005-2010 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 87

"Skyler, we'll keep you posted on what's happening here," said Ben. He was standing in Laura's hospital room while Tabitha went to get Laura some water. "We'll call you and Clay to let you know the minute she's out of surgery."

"Thanks, Dad," said Skyler. "I hate it that I can't get on a plane and be there."

"I know, son," he said. "But this will have to do. I promise to call as soon as she's out of surgery."

"All right, Dad," said Skyler. "I'll get off of here and let you get everything situated there."

"I'll speak to you soon, Sky," said Ben before hanging up.

"What did he say?" Jeff asked when Skyler hung up the phone.

"He said he'll call us the minute she's out of surgery," he said, looking from his lover to Clay and back.

"I wish we could be there," said Clay.

"Me too," sighed Skyler. "This is going to have to be enough for us though."

"Skyler, she'll get through this," Clay said firmly. "This won't be the end of Laura Ullman."

"I know, Clay," he said, hoping that they were both right.

How long had she known about the cancer? She'd been looking sad and tired for months. Could she have known that long? Was all of that a symptom that sent her to the doctor and she only found out now? He didn't think so. He was sure that she'd known about it for a while. Why had it taken so long for the doctor to decide to do surgery?

They sat around the living room of Skyler's apartment in silence. Preston played with his toys on the floor in front of them, looking up now and then to smile at one of them. After a few tries the child's face started to match the forlorn faces of the adults assembled around him. He crawled to his father and Skyler reached down and lifted his son onto his lap where he held him lightly and tried to smile down at him.

Jeff took Skyler's hand and sighed as he watched Preston hug his father. None of them knew what to say. This was a shock to each of them. None of them knew that Laura was sick. Clay had known that she was tired a lot and seemed to be sad more often than not, but he would never have even guessed that it was cancer.

After an hour of just sitting there waiting, Skyler took Preston into the kitchen. He busied himself with making his son something to eat while Jeff stood in the doorway watching them closely. Jeff was worried about how Skyler was taking this. He knew that Skyler thought of Laura like another mother, and this had to be killing him inside. He wished there was something that he could do to make his lover feel better.

Two hours later, Skyler was giving Preston a bath when the phone rang in the living room. Jeff took over so Skyler could go and answer the phone. He was so worried about what he would hear when he answered. Everyone in the living room watched him as he picked up the receiver.

"Hello, Dad," he said, closing his eyes.

"Sky, she's out of surgery," said his father. "Doctor Williams says that they got both tumors, and that she's going to have to have chemo therapy and radiation to make sure. She thinks it's going to be all right, Skyler."

"Thanks, Dad," he said, finally letting go of the tears that had been threatening to fall for hours. "When she wakes up tell her I love her."

"I will," said Ben. "Breathe, Sky."

"Yeah," he replied. "Call me if there's anything more. I'll wait to hear from Laura when she's feeling up to talking."

"She made it through surgery?" Clay asked as soon as Skyler was off the phone.

"Yeah," he said quietly, noticing that Jeff was standing in the doorway with Preston wrapped in a towel. "Dad said that they got both tumors and it looks good. She's going to have to have chemo and radiation to make sure though."

"Thank God," sighed Clay.

"I have to call Christian," Skyler said, but Clay was already on his cell to call him himself.

The adults had a quiet dinner while Preston played with his toys in the play pen. Shortly after dinner the others went back to their own apartments. Clay was the last to go after hugging Skyler tightly and telling him that everything was going to be all right. Skyler sat with Jeff and Brody in the living room to watch Preston play.

* * *

"What is it now?" Chad asked as soon as he was in the office at Sky High Los Angeles. He'd been summoned there by David Kessler, the man in charge of the Los Angeles branch of the company.

"Well first of all I'd like to discuss your antics," said David. "I haven't called your brother, but I'm thinking that if things don't change I might have to."

"David, I'm an adult," snapped Chad. "You don't need to call my big brother to come and slap my hand for anything I've done. Just tell me what you're fucking talking about and get it over with."

"Your stunt in the board room with your girlfriend for starters," David said sharply. "Then there's the fact that you were drunk both times you came to record after that. This has all got to stop. Sex in this building is not acceptable. If you want to have sex with your girlfriend, do it in your hotel room."

"Whatever," sighed Chad.

"That attitude isn't going to get you far," said David. "Do you have any idea how close you are to being let go?"

"Let go?" Chad asked, looking at the man finally.

"Yes, let go," snapped David. "We can't put up with you any more. You've either got to change or you'll be paying back your advance and finding a new company to put up with you."

Chad didn't say another word. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and called Skyler's private number. He knew that his brother was stuck in Australia, but this was completely unacceptable. He wasn't going to be talked to like he was an insolent child by David Kessler. He was Chad Thomas after all. The company belonged to his brother.

"Chad?" Skyler asked when he answered the call.

"Sky, I want you to tell David Kessler to watch his fucking mouth when he talks to me," Chad said loudly. "He just threatened me with having to pay back my advance and find another company."

"What's going on, Chad?"

"I just told you what's going on," snapped Chad. "Your goon is making threats and I don't like it."

"Chad, I can't deal with this right now," Skyler sighed. "Laura just had surgery to remove tumors from both of her breasts. She could have died, Chad. Deal with this yourself. If you're showing your ass in Los Angeles then David has every right to threaten you. No you won't be let go by Sky High, but he has every right to talk to you any way he chooses. I don't know what's happened to you, but I can't deal with it anymore."

"Fine, whatever," Chad said, shutting the phone and glaring at David. "You can't let me go. Only Skyler can, and he said I won't be let go by Sky High."

"I'll talk to Skyler later," David said.

"Fine," Chad said coldly. "You do that. I'm not in the mood to record now, so I'll come back tomorrow."

He got up and walked out of the office and didn't bother with the elevator. He took the stairs all the way to the ground floor to release some pent up energy. It had taken everything in him not to hit David Kessler. How dare the man threaten him? He was Chad Thomas, and threats didn't go well with him. David would lose his job over this. Chad vowed it to himself. If Skyler didn't back him on it then he'd just forget he had a brother named Skyler.

"Hey," said Darby when he nearly walked right past her. She was seated in the lobby of the building where he'd asked her to wait for him. "Not recording?"

"We're leaving," he said, trying hard not to snap at her. This was not going to be a good day.

* * *

"I just got off the phone with David Kessler in LA," sighed Ben as he came back to sit beside Tabitha in the waiting room. "Something has to be done about Chad's behavior."

"What's he done?" Tabitha asked, mentally cringing. Chad had been acting out so much lately. It was sad and it was strange. She worried about him so much.

"Well apparently he's been blowing off recording sessions, missing meetings with his producers and having sex with someone in a board room at Sky High," said Ben.

"Oh sweet Jesus," breathed Tabitha as she sank further into her chair. "What is he thinking?"

"I don't know the answer to that question anymore," said Ben, looking from Tabitha to Cassie and back. "I thought it was just jealousy at first, but something much deeper is going on here."

"Something has got to be done about his behavior," said Tabitha, shaking her head.

"What can we do?" Ben asked. "Chad is an adult. It isn't as if we can pull him in for a 'time out'."

"We have to do something, Daddy," said Cassie with tears in her eyes. "He's destroying himself."

"We've got to get him to actually come and see us before we can do anything about what he's doing," said Ben, and they all looked at each other in silence.

Getting Chad to come to the house was all but impossible. There was nothing that Ben could think of that would make his son come home. Was his jealousy of Skyler really that deep? Ben still thought there was a lot more to it than mere jealousy. Was it his abusive childhood? Was it anger over not having his real father for most of his life? There were too many things that could be the cause for Chad's behavior. Ben refused to believe that he'd just gone bad.

He'd heard of that before. He'd heard of children who had all of the advantages, but they still went completely and irreparably bad in ways that far out did what Chad was doing. He refused to believe that Chad was one of those kids. After all, he hadn't had all of the advantages growing up. What he'd had was abuse and misery. He just wished he could help him.

* * *

"So what brings you in today?" Robert Dodds asked as Skyler and Jeff came into the control booth the next day.

"Life is quickly turning to shit," sighed Skyler as they sat down next to him on the couch. "We thought we'd come and listen to Brody sing for a bit. Maybe that'll make us feel a little better."

"Well he's about to record another one," said Robert. "He's like a machine today. This'll be his third, and I hear he's striving to become you."

"What's that mean?" Skyler asked.

"Well everyone talks about you and calls you the 'one take wonder'," said Robert, smiling. "Brody's recorded two in one take."

"This I've got to see," said Skyler, smiling.

Everyone had always talked about how he could get through a song most times without being interrupted. Of course that didn't count the touch ups and background vocals, but he was famous in the studios for getting through the main track the first time with no stops and restarts. If Brody was doing that well, Skyler was sure he'd be fine.

"All right, Brody," said Rod into his mic. "Ready?"

"All set," said Brody with a smile as he looked at the newcomers. "Hey Sky, Jeff."

They waived back and smiled at him. This was Jeff's first time being around when Brody was recording. He'd seen Skyler record countless times and heard the amazing sound of his voice that only the studio acoustics could produce. He thought that if Brody was doing as well as Robert had said, he was in for a treat. He leaned forward as the music started. He smiled as Brody began to sing in that slow, silky voice.

"He spends his nights in California watching the stars on the big screen. Then he lies awake, and he wonders, 'Why can't that be me?' 'Cause in his life he is filled with all these good intentions. He's left a lot of things he'd rather not mention right now. But just before he says goodnight, he looks up with a little smile at me, and he says,

"If I could be like that, I would give anything just to live one day in those shoes. If I could be like that, what would I do? What would I do?"

The music continued to play in its slow, hypnotic rhythm. Brody's eyes were closed, but Jeff could see his head swaying just slightly in time with the music.

"She spends her days up in the north park, watching the people as they pass. All she wants is just a little piece of t his dream. Is that too much to ask? With a safe home, and a warn bed, on a quiet little street. All she wants is just something to hold onto. That's all she needs.

"If I could be like that, I would give anything just to live one day in those shoes. If I could be like that, what would I do? What would I do?"

The music played while Brody continued to rock his head from side to side in that slow motion. Jeff loved the song. He squeezed Skyler's hand as they listened. He hoped that Brody's silky voice was as soothing for Skyler as it was for him.

"If I could be like that, I would give anything just to live one day in those shoes. If I could be like that, what would I do? What would I do? If I could be like that, I would give anything just to live one day in those shoes. If I could be like that, what would I do? Oh, what would I do?

"If I could be like that, I would give anything just to live one day in those shoes."

The music played on again, and Skyler leaned into Jeff. Jeff smiled and wrapped his arms around his lover. He could just kiss Brody for making Skyler relax.

"If I could be like that, what would I do? Fallin'. I'm fallin' in. Fallin' in. I feel I'm fallin' into this again."

"That was perfect, Brody," said Rod when the music stopped. "Come on in here."

"That's it for today, right?" Brody asked before taking off his headset.

"That's it until you come back for backgrounds and touch ups," said Rod. "You're almost done with this thing."

"Outstanding!" Brody enthused.

"It was really great," said Skyler when Brody was in the booth with them.

"You liked it?" he asked, smiling wide.

"I loved it," said Skyler. "Not the way I heard it in my head when I wrote it, but it sounded amazing."

"I just thought the lyrics would be better for a ballad," Brody said, looking uncertain.

"Hey," laughed Skyler. "I wrote it for you, kid. It was your decision, and it was great."

"Thanks, Sky," he beamed. "Hey, why don't you guys come with me to Sharky's tonight? It might do you some good to get out and about."

"I don't know, Brody," said Skyler. "Things are a bit intense right now."

"Come on," he said, pouting. Skyler thought the guy looked even sexier with that pouting expression. "Jeff, talk him into it. Jase said he's going."

"You got my uncle to agree to go clubbing?" Skyler asked dubiously.

"Sure did," he laughed. "He said that after the last two days he'd love to unwind a bit."

"Well if you got Jase to go," said Skyler.

"We'll be there," laughed Jeff.

* * *

"I still don't see how going to a club is supposed to make me feel better," said Skyler as he and Jeff dressed for a night on the town. Brody had begged them to go to this new club with him. He'd even gotten Jase to agree to go. Skyler had to cave in and agree to go once his uncle decided to go.

"Maybe it'll take your mind off of everything that's been happening," said Jeff, walking up behind him and taking him in his arms.

"I wish I could just get Chad to talk to me," sighed Skyler, laying his head back against Jeff's shoulder.

"He'll come to his senses, Sky," Jeff all but promised. "He'll remember how wonderful you've been to him over the years and come back to being the Chad we all know and love. Just wait for him, Sky."

"It's hard, Jeff," he sighed. "Am I supposed to just watch him self destruct?"

"Of course not," Jeff replied. "There isn't much we can do about it at this point."

"That's what worries me," Skyler said with another sigh.

"Do me a favor tonight, Sky," Jeff said. "Forget about all of this. Forget about Chad's behavior, Laura's cancer and even the Twin Towers. Just tonight, Sky. Let's be happy for just tonight."

"Just tonight," whispered Skyler. "I'll try."

"That's all I can ask for," Jeff said, taking his hand and turning him around. "Come on. Jase'll be here in a few minutes with Mike, and I know Brody's waiting for us."

"Then let's get going," Skyler said, leading him out of the bathroom.

"There they are," Brody said. Jase and Mike were already in the living room. "What took you?"

"None of your business," laughed Jeff.

"Mike, you be good for Helen," Jase said to his son.

"I will, Daddy," he replied, smiling over at Helen. "We're going to play games with PJ."

"We sure are," said Helen, smiling warmly back at him.

"Helen, we'll be back as soon as the club closes unless I get tired," Skyler informed her.

"Go and have a good time, Skyler," she said. "You deserve it."

"Thanks, Helen," he said, smiling at her.

The group made their way out the door to meet up with at least one man from each celebrity's security team. They filed down the hallway to the elevator in silence. Brent stood just behind Skyler while Todd stood behind Jeff. Mason was at Brody's arm. It wasn't absolutely necessary for Brody to have security yet, but Skyler wasn't taking any chances. He'd hired the six foot black man shortly after the ink on Brody's contract had dried.

"So tell me about this club," Skyler said when they were all inside the SUV and heading out of the parking lot.

"It's only been open for a few weeks," Brody replied. "I've been there one time."

"Well what was it like?"

"Very nice," he said. "Great dance floor, live entertainment and a good crowd."

"So who's the live entertainment tonight?" Jeff asked.

"I'm not sure," Brody said, but Skyler saw him look away and knew he was lying. He hoped that whoever it was that Brody wanted him to see was at least good.

Skyler groaned silently when they pulled up in front of the black building. There were color posters of Three Six Eight, the band that he'd been eager to see in Melbourne only to be disappointed when they covered only his songs. He eyes Brody, but the younger man wasn't looking at him.

"Well at least it'll be a night out," Jeff said, sighing.

"Come on, guys," Brody said, turning to face them. "Give them a shot. They've been working really hard. They even got voice lessons while they were in London."

"They went to London?" Skyler asked.

"Yes," said Brody. "They took your advice and tried to figure out a sound of their own. They've been doing really well all over Australia lately. People actually travel to see their shows."

"Well then I'll try to listen with fresh ears," Skyler said. His interest was piqued now that he knew they were probably not going to cover his music. He hoped he liked whatever it was they were going to sing tonight.

He got his chance to find out if he would like their new sound about a half hour after they'd found a table near the stage. The curtains were still drawn, but music began to play, and the crowd started to cheer. The music sounded different than anything Skyler had heard before. It was almost techno, but it was slow with more than just club beats.

"If you've got love in your sights, watch out. Love bites," a low voice said into a microphone as the curtains drew back. The crowd started cheering louder at the sight of the four bare-chested young men. Skyler noticed that they'd all worked out considerably since he'd seen them last.

"When you make love, do you look in your mirror? Who do you think of? Does he look like me? Do you tell lies and say that it's forever? Do you think twice, or just touch and see? Ooh, babe. Oh yeah. When you're alone, do you let go? Are you wild and willin', or is it just for show? Ooh c'mon!" sang Tim, the oldest of the four.

"I don't wanna touch you too much, baby. 'Cause makin' love to you might drive me crazy. I know you think that love's the way you make it, but I don't wanna be there when you decide to break it. No!" he sang with a powerful voice.

"Love bites. Love bleeds," sang Dan, Rick and Alan.

"It's bringin' me to my knees," Tim sang loudly.

"Love lives. Love dies," sang Dan, Rick and Alan.

"It's no surprise," sang Tim.

"Love begs. Love pleads," sang Dan, Rick and Alan.

"It's what I need," Tim nearly whispered into the mic.

The music played on, and Skyler caught Brody watching him out of the corner of his eye. He smiled as he nodded at the younger man. He was impressed. They sounded great, and the music was amazing.

"When I'm with you, are you somewhere else? Am I gettin' through, or do you please yourself? When you wake up, will you walk out? It can't be love if you throw it about. Ooh, babe!" sang Tim in that loud and powerful voice again.

"I don't wanna touch you too much baby. 'Cause makin' love to you might drive me crazy. Oh!" he sang.

"Love bites. Love bleeds," sang Dan, Rick and Alan in very haunting voices.

"It's bringin' me to my knees," Tim sang louder and steadier.

"Love lives. Love dies," sang Dan, Rick and Alan.

"It's no surprise," sang Tim.

"Love begs. Love pleads," sang Dan, Rick and Alan.

"It's what I need," Tim's soft voice came again.

The music played on again, and Skyler finally realized that none of the guys were playing an instrument. There was a band behind them, and they sounded great. The guitar solo was mournful and amazing. Skyler was really impressed with the new Three Six Eight.

"Oh yeah!" cried all four brothers at once.

"I don't wanna touch you too much baby. 'Cause makin' love to you might drive me crazy. I know you think that love is the way you make it, so I don't wanna be there when you decide to break it. No!" sang Tim.

"Love bites. Love bleeds," his brothers sang together again.

"It's bringin' me to my knees!" cried Tim.

"Love lives. Love dies," came his brothers' voices. The music play for a few beats and then the brothers brought their mics to their mouths again.

"Love bites. Love bleeds," they sang.

"It's bringin' me to my knees," cried Tim again.

"Love lives. Love dies," they sang.

"It's no surprise," cried Tim.

"Love begs. Love pleads," sang the trio.

"It's what I need," Tim nearly whispered into his mic again. The music played on as they stood motionless, looking out at the crowd. Then only Tim moved his lips, but Skyler could have sworn he heard them all this time.

"If you've got love in your sights, watch out. Love bites," they said in those dull voices that started the song to begin with, and the music stopped.

The crowd screamed for them as they launched into another song. Skyler was too busy talking to Brody about how different they sounded that he paid little attention to the second song. He couldn't believe how much better they were. He thought it was amazing what a little time and training could do for a group. He was excited.

They sang a few more songs, and Skyler heard them for the most part. He'd decided to call their new style "techno rock". He couldn't wait for Madonna to hear them. He laughed as he thought about the argument they'd have over which company would sign them as they launched into their fifth song. This time the tempo was more upbeat, and the crowd seemed to know the song. They screamed again. Skyler turned to pay closer attention.

"She'll only come out at night. The lean and hungry type. Nothing is new, I've seen her here before," sang Dan instead of Tim. Skyler liked the sound of his voice.

"Watching and waiting. She's sitting with you, but her eyes are on the door. So many have paid to see what you think you're gettin' for fee," sang Rick, and Skyler found that he liked his voice, too.

"The woman is wile, a she-cat tamed by the purr of a jaguar. Money's the matter. If you're in it for love, you ain't gonna get too far," sang Alan. Skyler was pleased to find that he enjoyed Alan's vocie just as much as his three brothers'.

"Oh oh here she comes. Watch out boy! She'll chew you up! Oh no, here she comes. She's a maneater! Oh oh here she comes. Watch out boy! She'll chew you up! Oh no, here she comes. She's a maneater!" sang Tim, growling the last word and making the crowd scream again.

The music played that strange techno rock sound again, and Skyler loved it. He was so happy that he'd come to hear them. He made a mental note to hug Brody for talking him into this.

"I wouldn't if I were you. I know what she can do," sang Dan.

"She's deadly man, and she could rip your world apart," sang Rick.

"Mind over matter. The beauty is there, but a beast is in her heart," sang Alan.

"Oh oh here she comes! What out boy! She'll chew you up! Oh no here she comes. She's a maneater!" growled Tim, making the audience scream again.

"Mind over matter. She's a maneater!" the brothers all sang together, and the music stopped.

"Guys, it's been great tonight," said Tim, smiling at the audience. "Thank you so much for coming out tonight. The response to our new sound has been phenomenal."

He introduced his brothers and himself, one by one and then moved on to the band. Skyler watched the way they carried themselves. They were so proud and sure now. Gone were the timid looks and half shaking dance moves. They had embraced their new sound, and it was paying off.

"We've got one more for you tonight," Tim continued after introducing everyone. "Then it's time to say goodnight. Here you go, Sydney! The song that's made us famous."

The crowd screamed as the music started, nearly drowning it out. Skyler couldn't believe the crowd's reaction to it. He couldn't wait to hear the song.

"Traveling in a fried-out combie on a hippie trail, head full of zombie," sang Alan. "I met a strange lady. She made me nervous. She took me in and gave me breakfast. And she said, 'Do you come from a land down under? Where women glow and men plunder? Can't you hear, can't you hear that thunder? You better run. You better take cover."

"Buying bread from a man in Brussels. He was six foot four and full of muscles," sang Rick. "I said, 'do you speak my language?' He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich. And he said, 'I come from a land down under. Where beer does flow and men chunder. Can't you hear, can't you hear that thunder? You better run and take cover."

The music played on, and Rick and Alan reached down to slap hands with the people at the front of the crowd. Skyler had a goofy grin on his face as he watched. It was great.

"Lyin' in a den in Bombay!" cried Tim, making them scream again. "With a slack jaw and not much to say. I said to the man, 'Are you tryin' to tempt me? Because I come from the land of plenty?"

"And he said, 'Oh! Do you come from a land down under? Where women glow and men plunder? Can't you hear, can't you hear that thunder? You better run, you better take cover." sang Tim and Dan together.

"Livin' in the land down under!" they all sang together. "Where women glow and men plunder. Oh yeah! Livin' in the land down under! Where beer does flow and men chunder. Can't you hear, can't you hear that thunder? Said you better run, you better take cover!" they sang and the music stopped.

"Good night, everyone!" cried Tim as the four waved at the audience.

"Brent," Skyler said, rising from his seat. "Follow me."

"Where are you going?" Jase asked, watching his nephew.

"To talk to the guys," he said, smiling at Brody. "You little shit. Why didn't you tell me they were this good?"

"Would you have listened?" Brody asked with a smile.

"Probably not," laughed Skyler. "Come on, Brent."

"So you want to sign them, too?" Brent asked when they were away from the table.

"I want to talk to them first," Skyler said as they reached the crowd of people that were also trying to get backstage. A very muscular bouncer was keeping them from moving forward. He had his large body planted in front of the door with his beefy arms crossed over his chest.

"No one gets through this door that ain't on the list," he said gruffly as Skyler and Brent got there.

"But we know Alan!" cried a blond girl as she jumped up and down.

"Lady, I don't care if you know the Pope," said the bouncer, shaking his buzzed head. "You ain't on the list."

"Excuse me," said Skyler, pushing past the girl, and extending his hand. "My name is Skyler Thomas. I'm CEO of Sky High Entertainment. I wondered if I could either talk to the boys, or maybe you could give them my card?"

The bouncer looked at him with a skeptical face, but the damage had already been done. Girls throughout the crowd had heard him, and the news that he was in the club was spreading fast. More and more people began to gravitate toward the group. Brent became tense at Skyler's side, and the bouncer's eyes went wide.

"This isn't good, Sky," said Brent.

"Are you going to let them crush me?" Skyler asked the bouncer.

"Mr. Thomas, you can go in," he said, stepping aside to allow Skyler and Brent inside the room. Brent was already on his cell phone, calling for more security.

"Thanks," he said, smiling at the bouncer as they made their way into the room while being litterally pushed by the growing crowd behind them.

The four brothers were seated on the couch, laughing and talking about their show. They looked up when the door opened, but it was Brent that they saw first. Tim quickly stood and said, "Dane wasn't supposed to let anyone in here."

"Well," Skyler said, smiling as he stepped around Brent once the door was closed. "He thought it might be best if I came in here instead of being crushed to death by the mob out there."

"Skyler Thomas!" Alan cried, getting to his feet. He crossed the room in three bounding steps and thrust his hand out. Skyler took it. "Sorry, I'm all sweaty."

"Not a problem," laughed Skyler as Alan's brothers came over to stand beside him. "I've been there after a show. Trust me."

"What are you doing here?" Dan asked with a wide smile.

"Brody convinced me that I needed a night out," laughed Skyler. "He didn't tell me that you guys were going to be performing here until we were pulling up outside."

"We didn't want him to tell you," said Tim. "He promised not to bring you here until we were ready."

"Well from what I heard tonight, I'd say you're more than ready," said Skyler seriously. "I wanted to talk to you guys about coming into the studio and recording a demo for the others to hear."

"You want to sign us?" Tim asked, his eyes going wide.

"I want to explore the possibility," replied Skyler. "What I heard out there was awesome. If you've got about four more songs like that, I want to record them and let Clay and Rod hear you. What are you guys doing tomorrow morning?"

"Well we weren't doing anything until you came in here," Tim said, smiling.

"Let's meet tomorrow morning at nine," he said, handing Tim a card. "I'll have it all set up when you get there, breakfast, studio time, the works. Just be there."

"Oh, we'll be there," laughed Alan. "Thank you so much, Skyler."

"Don't thank me," Skyler said seriously. "This isn't always moonlight and roses, boys. This may actually be a curse."

"Nah," said Tim. "We want it. We want it all!"

"Well then I'll try to see that you get it all," Skyler said, smiling again. "Brent?"

"The rest of your security is on their way," he said in reply. "I've alerted Jase, so the others are already out back with the car. I want you to wait here until the guys get here. I don't want this getting ugly, Sky."

"I'll wait," he said. "I don't want it to get ugly any more than you do."

The wait wasn't long. While Skyler was answering Tim and Alan's questions, someone knocked on the door. Brent went to the door and opened it just a crack before he stepped back to allow Dom and Sid into the room. They spoke softly to Brent while others filed into the room.

Then they were ushering Skyler out the back door to the SUV. Fans had figured out that they would be leaving through the back door, and they had lined up on the other side of the service ally. Skyler's security guys circled him until Jeff took his hand and literally pulled him into the car. They were off after that, and Skyler was laughing. He was so happy to see that his security was so prepared, and so reliable. He'd picked them all very carefully, and it seemed that his choices were paying off.

"That was a dirty trick," Jase said, glaring at Skyler with mock rage.

"Tell me they're going to be in the studio," said Jeff. "And I'll forgive you."

"Tomorrow at nine," Skyler said, gripping Jeff's hand.

"Awesome," he said, smiling. "I loved their new sound."

"So did I," said Skyler. "They're going to meet me tomorrow morning, and we're going to record a demo. If I can have Clay and Rod there, everything will be perfect."

* * *

"Chad?" Darby asked as she knocked on the bathroom door.

He'd been gone for hours, and when he finally came home it was only to lock himself in the bathroom. He'd been angry and just a little snappy since they'd left the studio the day before, and he'd blown off recording. She was worried. If he was doing drugs, she needed to get away from him. She didn't want to leave him, but she couldn't be involved with anyone on drugs. Not again.

"Chad?" she asked again, trying the lever again.

She walked away from the door and rummaged through her purse as she surveyed the nearly destroyed hotel room that they'd been staying in. Her sister had to be worried about her. She hadn't called in a week, and she'd completely blown off her job at the convenient store to be with Chad. She sighed as she found the hair pin she'd been searching for and thought about calling her sister.

She twisted the pin in the lock on the bathroom door, silently cursing the irony of how her trouble youth was helping her out now. When she heard the right click, she tried the lever and pushed the door open. She gasped when she saw him. He was lying on the floor with his head on the rug. She took in the sight that she'd refused to see before. She saw his ribs showing through his underweight frame, his collar bones protruded, and he had bruises on both arms. What made the tears fall finally was the rubber tourniquet wrapped around his arm and the needle that was still inserted in his vein.

She knelt down and put her fingers to his throat to check for a pulse. Should she call someone? Who? She didn't know how to contact his family. She had the card for Sky High Entertainment in her purse, but would they help him now? His pulse was weak but steady. She had experience with heroin, so she knew that he hadn't over dosed.

She was sobbing as she searched the room for her clothing and put it all in her black bag. She really loved him, but she couldn't stay around for what this would do to him. She couldn't believe that she'd let love blind her to the warning signs. She'd watched her mother basically disintegrate before her eyes growing up. She'd known what to look for, and as she scanned her mind for the last few weeks, she saw it all.

"Cam?" she said into her phone, through her tears. "Can you pick me up at the Hilton? I know you're mad at me, but I need you so bad."

* * *

"That was David Kessler," sighed Ben as he sat down. "Chad's been arrested for possession of a narcotic, and the Hilton is pressing charges against Sky High Entertainment for the destruction of one of their suites."

"Oh, dear God," whispered Tabitha as she sank into the lounge chair. "What on Earth?"

"I have to get to LA," Ben informed her. "David said that Chad's asking for me."

"Where is he?" she asked.

"He's in a holding cell at the moment," Ben said. "I don't want to call Skyler about this, and I told David not to. I want to see my son before I involve my oldest."

"Won't Skyler be upset that you kept this from him?" she asked. "What about Cassie?"

"Cassie is with Kaleb," he said, his voice cracking with the emotions at war within him as he spoke. "Let her be blissfully ignorant for a little while longer. I'll call from LA."

She got up and wrapped her arms around him, sending him even closer to the tears that were threatening to come. She wasn't holding back. She sobbed as he held her. He kissed her hair and soothed her with quiet words, promises to make this right as soon as he could.

Then she was standing in the driveway, watching her husband back out. He'd said he could be in New Orleans to meet the train early. He said that if he just kept driving he'd be there in ten hours. She really didn't like the idea of him driving by himself as upset as he was, but what was there to do? He didn't want anyone to know what was going on.

From New Orleans he would travel by train to Los Angeles. He said it would take two days to get there from New Orleans. She prayed it was enough time to keep Chad from doing anything crazy.

* * *

"I've been banned from the set," Chip sighed as he talked to his sister, Hillary, on the telephone. "I can't even be there to make sure that Shane doesn't do anything to Justin."

"Chip, you've got to calm down," said Hillary. "Do you want Justin to grow up nervous and upset?"

"Of course not," he said quickly. "Hill, all I want is for Justin to be done with this movie. I'm not letting him do another."

"You signed a contract," she reminded him. "You can't get out of it, Chip. Dyson won't back you if you break it."

"So I'm stuck with Justin being around Shane all the time?" he snapped.

"Don't yell at me," she said in a warning tone. "You're the one who signed the contract without discussing it with the family."

"I wasn't aware that I had to discuss every personal decision with the family, Hillary," he said hotly.

"You're doing it again," she said calmly. "Chip, you need to calm down. I didn't intend to imply that you had to discuss anything with the family, but if you want the family's help you should have come to us before this started. Don't even get me started on Shane."

"You see that this is bad though, right?" he asked.

"Chip, Shane did his time in rehab," she said. "He's clean and sober. When are you going to forgive him? It was an accident."

"Are you telling me that you've forgiven him?" he asked. "He killed our sister!"

"Chip, Shane didn't kill anyone," she said, forcing her voice to be calm. "Sarah knew what she was doing when she took the drugs. Shane didn't force her."

"Of course he didn't," snapped Chip. "He was passed out from the effect of the same drug. It's always been like that with him, and you want me to calm down when he's around Justin day in and day out."

"You're yelling again," she said tightly. "If you called to yell at me . . ."

"I didn't call to yell," he said softly. "I'm sorry, Hill. I'm just upset."

"Over Shane being Jase Thomas's assistant?" she asked. "Or is there more to this?"

"Christian knew about this and didn't tell me," he said finally. "I heard about Shane and Robby arriving on television."

"Well that sounds like something that's between you and your lover," she said carefully. "You should be discussing this with him."

"When the flights are going again, would it be all right if Justin and I came to stay with you for a while?" he asked.

"Of course you can come and stay," she said. "Chase would love to see his uncle and cousin, and unless Kyle gets back to school, I'm sure he'd love to see you and Justin as well."

"Kyle is in Dallas?" Chip asked. "No one told me that."

"We haven't had a chance to tell you," she reminded. "You didn't leave contact information with anyone in the family."

"Right," he sighed. "I'm sorry for that. Until flights resume you can reach me at this number."

"We'll be in touch, Chip," she said. "But I suggest you get your head on straight and talk to your son and lover."

"So you're leaving me?" Christian asked as Chip hung up the phone, startling him.

"Why didn't you tell me that Skyler had hired Robby and Shane?" he asked instead of answering. He turned to face him, being careful to keep his expression neutral.

"I was trying to find the right way to do it," Christian said with a sigh as he came further into the room and sat down in the recliner. "Skyler told me that you and Shane didn't get along. Neither of us knew that you hated him, though."

"I don't hate my brother," Chip said, looking down at his folded hands. "It's complicated."

"Well, like I said, neither of us know why," said Christian. "We didn't know that it would blow up the way that it did, so I guess that I didn't tell you because I thought that somehow you would just understand."

"There's a lot about me that you don't know," Chip replied.

Christian watched his face as he processed what he'd said. "There's a lot you don't know about me, too," he said after a moment. "That's what being together is all about. We're learning about each other."

"You don't want to learn this about me," Chip said, looking away.

"I love you," Christian replied. "There isn't anything about you that I don't want to learn, Chip."

"All right," Chip sighed, trying hard to keep his temper in check. "I'll tell you all about what happened between Shane and the family. You see, this isn't just about me and Shane. It never was. Robby might have made up with his twin. We expected that he would eventually. They're twins, after all."

"I don't understand," Christian breathed.

"I'm getting there," Chip replied. "We had a sister. She was a year younger than Robby and Shane. Her name was Sarah. She was so beautiful, and Shane was her favorite. She'd follow him anywhere he went, wanted to do everything he did."

Chip's voice waivered as he spoke, and Christian was hushed to silence by the haunted look in his lover's eyes. Whatever it was that he was trying to tell was very hard for him, and Christian had to fight the urge to get up and comfort him. He sensed that Chip needed to say this, to get it out without distractions. He sat and waited for him to continue in silence, hoping that he wouldn't break down completely as he spoke.

"Shane pulled away from everyone after our parents died," he continued, staring at the photograph of the two of them with Justin on the wall behind the sofa. "Our youngest brother, Kyle didn't take their deaths well. They'd died in a car accident. He was the only survivor. They were headed to the airport to pick up Shane. He and Robby had just graduated from college. He and Robby had gotten into a huge argument over something, I don't know what it was to this day.

"Anyway, Shane left Dallas right after the funerals and didn't look back for three years," he sighed. "When he finally came back, we could see that something was wrong with him. It was Sarah that he talked to. Only she could make him smile. When she was away at school, he was this sad and broken boy again. It was painful to watch.

"I was in the middle of my divorce," he said as the tears finally broke free of the dam he'd erected to hold them back. "We were fighting over Justin, and it was taking a toll on me. I didn't see what was happening under my nose when Shane came to stay with me in my apartment just three blocks from Dyson Industries' main building.

"Spring break arrived, and Sarah came home," he said, his voice taking on that same haunted look that was in his eyes as he continued to speak. "Naturally she wanted to be where Shane was. She loved him so much, she saw right through what the rest of us were just too wrapped up in our own lives to notice. Shane was addicted to drugs.

"They had this huge argument at the main house," Chip continued, but his voice took on an agonizing tone as he did so. "Sarah walked out, and none of us knew here she was. We searched the city, all of her favorite places, but she was just gone. It was Shane that found her in the bedroom she was using in my apartment.

"She was dead when he got there, I guess," Chip said, wiping the tears from his face, trying to stop them and failing. "He brought the drugs into our lives. He left them in his drawer where Sarah found them. She'd taken his drugs, but she'd taken too much. There was nothing anyone could have done. I know that now, but Shane didn't call an ambulance. He didn't call the family. He just sat there, holding her as he got high.

"I walked into the apartment," he sobbed. "I was so worried about both of them. I walked into the bedroom, and there they were. I couldn't think. I just grabbed my baby sister and started CPR. Shane just sat there with this slack look on his face, tears falling down his cheeks.

"When I couldn't revive her, I grabbed him," he nearly wailed. "Oh, God, I hit him so hard in the stomach, over and over again. It was my sister's husband, Phillip that stopped me. The police and paramedics were there. They took my sister's body away in a body bag. Shane they took in the ambulance that was meant for Sarah.

"I hadn't laid eyes on Shane until I saw him on television when Skyler tried to usher the twins through the press at the airport," he said, finally stopping his tears. He just looked at Christian with a sad, broken expression.

Christian didn't know what to say. He was in tears as he'd listened, and now that it was over he was horrified.

Love Bites is a song by Def Leopard.
Maneater is a song by Hall & Oats.
Be Like That is a song by 3 Doors Down.

The next chapter will be posted soon.