© 2005-2010 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 88

"Ben," said David Kessler as soon as Ben walked into his office. "Sit down. We're trying to get with the publicity department so we can issue a statement."

"I want my son out of that cell," Ben said when David stopped talking.

"We're not at liberty to pay the bail," said David.

"He's a Sky High client," Ben hissed. "You'll pay the damned bail or we're all going to court."

"Ben, listen, I'm not so sure he is a client of Sky High anymore," said David. "Now, with Skyler stuck in Australia, Kevin Alexander is in charge of Sky High Entertainment, Los Angeles. He says . . ."

"I don't give a rat's ass what Kevin Alexander says," snapped Ben, cutting him off again. "This company still be longs to Skyler, Clay and Laura. Now I can get Clay Silver on the phone if I need to, but do you really want Skyler to hear about what you've all decided to do with his brother? I suggest you contact the financial department and get your ass over there to bail Chad out."

"Mr. Thomas," David said, straightening his tie. "I don't think you're in any position to give anyone orders in this company. You're only the head of one department of the Orlando branch."

"We'll see about that," said Ben, pulling his cell phone out of his shirt pocket and dialing Australia.

* * *

"It's all over the American news!" cried Skyler as he sat in his living room to watch as Chad's entire reputation went to hell.

"Sky, your dad's on the phone," said Jeff, wincing as Skyler turned that hateful gaze toward him.

"This isn't good," said Clay as they watched Skyler head for the kitchen to talk to his dad.

"We knew that Chad was likely on drugs," sighed Jeff. "We just didn't have any idea it was this bad."

"There weren't enough warning signs," said Clay. "If there had been, we'd have all attacked this head on."

"I think Skyler was counting on Chad's support staff to step in and do something about this," Jeff said quietly.

"Well then I suspect that a number of people are going to have a lot of explaining to do once Skyler reaches the States," said Clay.

"Clay," said Skyler as he came back into the living room. "I think you're going to have a talk with Kevin Alexander in Los Angeles. You're in charge of things right now, so it would be better if he talked to you. I just fired David Kessler."

"You what?" Clay asked, his eyes wide.

"I fired him," replied Skyler. "He thought it was necessary to tell me what the company was going to do no matter what my orders were. When I reminded him that I'm a partner, he told me that Kevin had already made the decision and there wasn't anything I could do about it."

"What decision?" Clay asked.

"The decision to break my brother's contract with Sky High Entertainment, issue a statement to the press to that effect and to abandon Chad in the county jail," Skyler said through clenched teeth.

"I'll get on this, Skyler," said Clay, pulling out his cell phone and heading for another room.

"What the hell is going on in Los Angeles, Blondie?" Jeff asked, crossing to him and wrapping him in his arms.

"I'm not sure," sighed Skyler, leaning into him. "It sounds like a bunch of grade school kids being bullies while the teacher's back is turned."

* * *

"Dad," Chad moaned as Ben walked into his cell and sat on the cot beside his shaking son. He noticed that Chad's skin was covered with sweat, and his lips were purple. There was a large amount of vomit on the floor beside the bed. He'd been careful not to step in it.

"Oh, Chad," sighed Ben, lifting his son into his arms, ignoring the fact that vomit stained his shirt. "Why have you done this?"

"Daddy," moaned Chad. "Please. It hurts."

"Shh," Ben cooed as he rocked him. "I'm going to get you out of here."

"Dad," said Chad as he shivered. "Please don't tell Sky."

"Don't think about Sky right now," said Ben. "We have to get you better."

"I'm so sorry, Dad," Chad said, holding his father tight. "Tell Sky I said I was sorry."

Ben had to meet with the lawyer that had finally been sent over from Sky High, and it took two hours to get Chad out of jail. They checked into a hotel, and Ben asked that Chad's security watch the door. He didn't want his son out of the hotel room for any reason. Then he called Kurt Cassle to come and sit with them. He wanted the man there to attend to Chad's every need.

What he really wanted was to know how all of these men had failed his son. Why weren't they watching? Why had they allowed this to happen? Ben didn't care if Chad had pulled his pants down and pissed on them all. They shouldn't have allowed this. He was going to have a talk with each of them. Skyler would have to understand. Some of them were likely to either quit or be fired, and there wasn't anything that anyone was going to be able to say to change it once it happened.

"I've got him," Ben said to Tabitha when he called Orlando. "We've checked into a room at the Plaza."

"Ben, thank God," she said. "I've been going crazy. Sky's called at least fifty times, and Cassie's beside herself. It's all over the news. Sky High is announcing that Chad was arrested and that David Kessler has been fired."

"What else did they say?" he asked. The firing of David Kessler was news to him, but he was happy about it.

"Just that Chad was arrested and that Sky High stands behind him," she said. "What else were they supposed to say?"

"Nothing," he sighed. "I guess my call to Skyler got things done."

"You called Skyler?"

"I had to, Tab," he said, glancing at his sleeping son and quieting down. "They were going to cut Chad off and leave him in jail. David told me that they were going to release a statement, telling the world that Chad was no longer a client of Sky High."

"What?" she gasped. "What did Skyler say about all of this?"

"He just told me that he'd take care of it," said Ben. "Then you tell me that David's fired, and Sky High is standing behind Chad. I guess that's what Skyler had to say about it."

"You'd better call Skyler," she said. "He's ready to chew nails."

"I'll call him as soon as we're off the phone," he said.

"Are you bringing Chad home?"

"Sweetheart, I'm not sure what I'm doing just yet," he admitted. "I need to talk to Skyler."

"All right," she sighed. "I love you."

"I love you, too," he replied. "Tell Cassie that I have him, and he's fine."

* * *

"I don't know what the hell to think about any of this, Clay," said Skyler hotly. "Why did my brother's life get to this with so many people on his support staff to begin with?"

"Skyler, I can't answer that," Clay said. "Chad fired me, remember?"

"This is just insane," Skyler snapped. "I can't believe this!"

"Sky, your dad's on the phone," Jeff said carefully. He'd never seen Skyler this angry before.

He understood the anger. He'd have been just as angry and upset if this had happened to his brother. He just hoped, for Skyler's sake, that Chad could get his act together now. He silently prayed that Ben could handle what was coming. He was sure there was a landslide on it's way for Chad Thomas.

"Dad?" Skyler said as soon as he picked up the phone.

"Sky," sighed Ben. "I have him. We're in room forty-eight fifteen at the Plaza."

"Dad, how is he?" he breathed.

"It's bad, Sky," Ben said, his voice cracking so much that Skyler heard it over the phone. "I've never seen anything like this."

"Dad, I wish I could just come to you," Skyler said. "Has he said anything?"

"It's mostly delirium," Ben attested. "He's asked me not to tell you about twenty times, but then he tells me to tell you that he's sorry."

"Oh, God," sighed Skyler, sitting at the table. He heard some kind of commotion in the living room, but he paid no attention to it. "How did he get heroin?"

"Skyler, I don't know the answer to that question," said Ben. "I'm going to find this Darby Shaw and ask her some questions. I'm also going to scream at Kurt and the security men. Fair warning."

"You don't have to warn me, Dad," said Skyler. "He's your son. Do what you have to do. I'll stand by it."

"Thanks, Sky," said Ben. "I've just never seen anything like this before."

"Tell me his symptoms," Skyler said not knowing if it would do any good to hear the symptoms or not.

"He's covered in sweat, but shivers like he's cold," said Ben. "He vomits quite a bit, and he's had to be helped to the bathroom twice for diarrhea. His stomach is constantly cramping, and he's a bit delirious. He's coherent one moment and then gone the next. He talks about Chuck a lot. He talks about you almost as much."

"I don't know what to tell you do for him," Skyler said, tears running down his cheeks.

"Candy," said Chip from behind him. "Tell him to get him hard candy and lots of bottled water. It'll help. Trust me, Sky."

"Get him hard candy, Dad," said Skyler, eyeing Chip as he spoke. "Lots of hard candy and bottled water. It'll help."

"All right," sighed Ben. "I'll send Kurt out to get some as soon as he gets in the room."

"That's all I have," Skyler said, looking down at his feet. "Hug him for me, and tell him that I love him."

"I'll do that, Skyler," said Ben. "You take care of yourself, kiddo."

"I will," he said. "Be careful, Dad."

"I love you, son," Ben said.

"I love you, too," replied Skyler.

Skyler was quiet as he looked up, surprised to see not only Chip still standing there in the kitchen, but that Jeff had entered the room, and Brent had squared his massive shoulders in the doorway. He smiled at his lover and then at his friend before turning his gaze back to Chip. The smile slipped off his face, replaced by a questioning look that begged an answer.

Chip walked over and joined Skyler at the table before he started talking. Once he started, Skyler couldn't, wouldn't stop him. Out of Chip came a tale of drug use, dead parents and then a dead sister. His reason for hating Shane was laid bare in front of Skyler, and Skyler couldn't stop his tears. By the end of it Chip was in tears as well, though Skyler could tell that they weren't his first of the day. He understood all to well now.

"Chip . . ."

"Skyler, I owe you an apology," Chip said, interrupting him. "What I said to you and Jeff was completely out of line. I'd take it all back if I could. I owe Jase an apology as well, but since he's still filming that apology will have to wait."

"Why didn't you ever tell me this before?" Skyler asked, unable to come up with anything else.

"There was never a reason to, Sky," said Chip. "Shane was just out there somewhere, and Sarah was tucked away in a nice little spot inside my heart. Seeing him, actually seeing him in person brought it all back, and I saw red. That doesn't excuse my behavior, but it's the only explanation I have."

"I knew that Shane had battled a drug problem," said Skyler. "I just didn't know . . . "

"You had no way to know anything more than that," said Chip.

"That's how you knew what to do for Chad," Skyler breathed.

"It won't solve things, Sky," he said. "But it will help with the craving. He needs a doctor as quickly as your dad can get him one."

"Dad's working on that," said Skyler. "Thank you for telling me all of this, and I accept your apology, Chip. I'm so sorry for all of it."

"You have nothing to be sorry for," said Chip, shaking his head. "Shane has the credentials to be Jase's assistant, and if I'd had my head on straight I would have kept my mouth shut. It was just seeing him for the first time since Sarah's funeral . . . "

"I understand," said Skyler, turning to look up at Jeff and Brent. Both men were silent and looked pensive as they surveyed the scene before them.

"Could you tell Jase . . . "

"You can talk to Jase at the recording studio in the morning," Skyler cut him off. "Justin and I have songs to record for the soundtrack."

"That's right," sighed Chip. "Justin has been so excited about it. He can't wait for me to hear him. I feel like such an ass for blowing up in front of my son like that."

"He'll understand if you just sit him down and explain," Skyler said.

"Thanks, Sky," Chip said, reaching across the table and squeezing his hand.

Skyler said nothing as Brent moved out of the way to allow Chip to leave the apartment. Then Skyler was up and in Jeff's arms. He sobbed against his lover's shoulder as he thought of what Chad had to be going through. All of the anger and frustration he'd felt for his little brother vanished in a downpour of tears and misery.

Once the tears subsided, he thanked Helen for staying to help with Preston and went to his room to sit in the silence and think. Jeff watched him go with a worried expression and thought about following him, but he knew that wasn't what Skyler needed at that moment.

* * *

"Now from what I've been able to get out of him, I'd say he's only tried the drug twice," said the doctor that had come to see Chad. "Understand that doesn't make this any less serious. You just keep an eye on him, and if you notice that he has too much trouble breathing or you can't wake him, call for help."

"Thank you," said Ben, shaking the man's hand.

"The candy and water will help with the craving," he said. "The symptoms will decrease over the next few days. Just watch."

He shook the man's hand again and waited until he was out the door. He took a minute to watch the assembled faces that had come because he called them to the room. He thought carefully about what he was going to say, and he tried to make sure that he didn't let his emotions get the better of him. All of the preparations he made went out the window when he opened his mouth and said, "Which one of you assholes wants to tell me how my son got strung out on smack?"

"Mr. Thomas . . . "

"Oh, go straight to hell with your 'Mr. Thomas' bullshit, Kurt," snapped Ben, cutting the man off. "Just tell me what I want to know, damn it."

"I've been kept out of the rooms and his apartment for the most part," said Kurt. "Chad would call me and set up a place for us to meet to discuss his schedules. I don't know where the drugs came from."

"Well thank you very much, Kurt," Ben said, his voice heavy with sarcasm. "It's nice to know that you let my son walk all over you."

"I . . . "

"Anyone else have anything to say?" Ben asked, cutting Kurt off again. "Be warned, I've got Skyler's consent to fire each and every one of you if I choose. One of you had better tell me something other than you let my son walk on you like a fucking carpet. I want to know how this happened."

"Ben," said Conner. "There have only been two people that Chad's been close to since the tour. Darby Shaw told me that he was passed out on the bathroom floor at the Hilton before I had Stan drive her home. We called you and we called Sky High."

"I know all of that, Conner," Ben said. "Who, besides Darby Shaw has my son been hanging around with?"

"His name is Paul Camperson . . . "

"Camperson?" Ben asked, and he had to control his breathing as he remembered Rory and the fiasco that seemed to have started all of Chad's moodiness.

"Yes, Sir," said Conner. "We checked up on him, no criminal record or suspicion. He's Rory Camperson's younger brother."

"I'd lay balls to bones that's where the shit came from," spat Ben. "Fucking Campersons."

* * *

Skyler sat on the stool with his headset on, trying to put everything that had happened out of his mind. It had been a rough night, and he hoped his voice didn't suffer for it. Jeff had been amazing. Skyler loved him so much that it hurt sometimes. He hoped that things would settle now that they had Chad under lock and key. He couldn't take much more.

"All right, Skyler," said Robin Reed, the producer for the music. "We're ready in here."

"I'm ready," he said, and the music began.

He waited to hear the subtle change in the music and then moved toward the mic.

"You're in my arms, and all the world is calm. The music playing on for only two. So close together, and I'm with you, so close to feeling alive," he sang, wincing at the scratchy sound of his voice.

"A life goes by, romantic dreams stop, so I bid mine goodbye and never knew so close was waiting, waiting here with you. And now forever I know all that I wanted to hold you so close," he sang, and let the music play on. He rubbed his throat and smiled at Robin.

"So close to reaching that famous happy end. Almost believing this was not pretend, and now you're beside me, and look how far we've come. So far we are so close.

"How could I face the faceless days if I should lose you now? We're so close to reaching that famous happy end and almost believing this was not pretend. Let's go on dreaming we are so close," he sang and let the music play for a few beats.

"So close, and still so far," he sang, letting his scratchy voice trail off on the last word.

"Perfect, Skyler," said Robin into his headset. "You can come on in here with us."

"Thanks," he said, taking a long pull on his water bottle.

"You'll have some harmonies and back ups to do later," she said. "We kind of want to get Justin in here as soon as possible." She turned to look at the others. "Does anyone know if Jase is finished with his discussion?"

At that moment, Jase came through the door with his arm over Chip's shoulders, smiling at his nephew to let him know that all was well. Right behind them came the bubbly Justin, excited to finally have his dad hear him sing. He saw Skyler and beamed a smile at him.

"Sky, are you going to listen, too?" he asked.

"I sure am," replied Skyler. "Would you like to hear I what I just recorded for the movie?"

"Oh man, can I?" he asked.

Skyler nodded at Robin and the raw track began to play again. She explained to them that the background vocals and harmonies had already been recorded for Justin's song. This would be a run through and nothing more. If Justin could sing it in one try he'd be the talk of the studio in no time. That got him to laugh.

"Ready?" Skyler asked when the song ended.

"Yeah!" he cried and followed Skyler through the door into the booth itself.

Skyler helped adjust the headset to fit him, wished him luck and then went back to sit with Jase and Chip. He was nervous, and he chuckled at himself when he got back to the control booth. Robin smiled and thanked him for helping. He waved her off and sat between his uncle and friend to listen. The music started, and Skyler held his breath.

"In my dream, children sing a song of love for every boy and girl. They sky is blue, and fields are green. And laughter is the language of the world. Then I wake, and all I see is a world full of people in need.

"Tell me why does it have to be like this? Tell me why, is there something I have missed? Tell me why, 'cause I don't understand. When so many need somebody, we don't give a helping hand. Tell me why?

Robin held up a hand to stop him from singing as the music played on a bit. Skyler, Jase and Chip were all smiles as he smiled at them. Skyler couldn't believe how amazing his voice sounded as he sang the song. He was sure the world would love it.

"Every day I ask myself what will I have to do to be a man? Do I have to stand and fight to prove to everybody who I am? Is that what my life is for, to waste in a world full of war?

"Tell me why does it have to be like this? Tell me why, is there something I have missed? Tell me why, 'cause I don't understand. When so many need somebody, we don't give a helping hand. Tell me why?

"Tell me why?" sang a chorus of children.

"Tell me why?" responded Justin.

"Tell me why? sang the chorus.

"Tell me why?" he responded.

"Just tell me why, why, why?" he sang with the chorus.

Robin held her hand up again to stop him before he started singing again. The music played on for a bit as Justin counted silently. He wasn't paying any attention to the smiling spectators this time. He was concentrating. Then before Robin could get his attention he started again.

"Tell me why does it have to be like this? Tell me why, is there something I have missed? Tell me why, 'cause I don't understand. When so many need somebody, we don't give a helping hand. Tell me why?

"Tell me why, why, why does the tiger run? Tell me why, why, why do we shoot the gun? Tell me why, why, why do we never learn? Can someone tell me why we let the forests burn? Why, why do we say we care? Tell me why, why, why do we stand and stare? Tell me why, why, why do the dolphins cry? Can someone tell me why we let the ocean die? Why, why if we're all the same, tell me why, why, why do we pass the blame? Tell me why, why, why does it never end? Can someone tell me why we cannot just be friends?

"Why? Why?" he sang and the music stopped.

Chip and Justin rode home with Skyler and Jase. The adults chattered excitedly about Justin's singing, making the boy practically glow with excitement. For the entire drive, Skyler and the others heard all about how cool it was to record a song. They laughed and patted Justin on the back as they got out of the SUV in the parking garage at the apartment building.

"Hey, Blondie," Jeff said, smiling as they came in. He was so happy to see Skyler smiling. "Your dad called a little while ago. He wants you to call him, and Clay wants you to call downstairs when you're ready. He's got something he wants you to see."

"All right," he said, kissing his lover and then the little boy in his arms.

"Sky, I found out where he gets the drugs," said his father as soon as he picked up his cell.

"That's good," Skyler said. "Is there any way to get him arrested?"

"Working on it," replied his father. "Chad's doing a little better today. He's asking for you."

Those words nearly made Skyler cry. "I can't get there right now, Dad."

"I know that, and I've explained that to Chad," said his father. "He remembers the terrorist attacks, Skyler. He's not upset. He's just in withdrawal."

"What did the doctor say?" he asked, hoping for good news.

"He said it doesn't appear that Chad's been doing the drug for very long," said Ben. "He said it isn't any less dangerous for him, but he says that his withdrawal shouldn't take long."

"That's good," sighed Skyler. "Can you take him back to Orlando?"

"Your mother, brother, sister and Kaleb are on a train, headed this way right now," said Ben. "We're going to take Chad to the family house. We've been told he can't leave Los Angeles, Sky."

"I'll be there as soon as I possibly can," Skyler replied.

He called Clay as soon as the phone call with his father ended. Clay told him that he'd keep up on when they could fly into the States, so that he could get home. Then he told him he was on his way up to show him something that had come in the mail from Gavin Hunter, one of the agents from Sky High New York.

Clay was upstairs quickly, and he handed Skyler a glossy eight by ten photograph of an attractive dark haired man along with a DVD. Skyler looked at the title of the DVD and it was a video for Joshua Taylor's "I'm Gonna Miss Her". It had the Sky High logo on it, and Skyler smiled. It seemed time really was moving along.

"Signing him was Laura's final act before her ordeal," Clay said softly when Skyler handed Jeff the DVD to put in the player and sat on the couch with his uncle and Chip.

"And she handed him over to Gavin?" Skyler asked.

"Well she knew that she wouldn't be able to do anything for him for a while," Clay said quickly.

"I understand, Clay, I was just clarifying," he said.

"Now, don't be shocked by this," said Clay. "He's a country musician, Sky."

"I think we can handle it," Skyler said with a smile.

The video started, and they were all laughing before the first verse was finished. The song was about a man who's girlfriend had told him he had to choose between her and fishing. He'd chosen fishing, but he thought he'd miss her when he got home. It felt so good to laugh that Skyler instantly loved the song.

"Gavin says the whole album is like that," Clay said, still laughing a bit as he took the DVD out of the player.

"Tell me about Joshua Taylor," said Skyler.

"He's twenty-one, from Nashville, but Laura snagged him before any of the country head hunters could spot him," said Clay. "He grew up on a farm, milking cows and slopping pigs. He says he wants music to be fun."

"Well with his lyrics it certainly will be," Skyler said, smiling.

Calls went back and forth between Skyler and his family throughout the week. Chad steadily got stronger and better, and Skyler finally talked to him that Sunday. He seemed upbeat, and he'd apologized for his drug induced paranoia about Skyler. Skyler forgave him instantly and conveyed the wish that he could be there with him.

Later that day they were all back in the living room to watch the DVD of Brody's first music video. Skyler had filmed it with him. In the video he was a pop star, and Brody sang about doing anything to be in his shoes. The video was great, and they were all smiles again as it ended.

Six days later, Madonna arrived in Sydney. Skyler was so excited to see her that he didn't figure out that she'd gotten there from Los Angeles for a few minutes. They hugged, and he told her everything that was happening with Chad as well as with the company. When he finally asked her how she got there, she laughed.

"I drove to Mexico and boarded a plan that brought me here," she said. "It's that easy to get home, Toy."

He called Los Angeles and Orlando to talk to Chad and Laura. He told them that he could come home now, but that he'd booked studio time and Sydney musicians to start working on his album when he'd thought they'd still be stuck. Chad and Laura both told him to stay and finish the album. They were both doing well, so Skyler promised to return to them as soon as the album was finished.

On the seventh of October, he began to record the album. They knew within a day that the first single off the album would be "I Want You", Skyler's throbbing dance track. It was the first song to be successfully completed. Five days later, Skyler's single for the Good Will Games, "Let Me Fall" was released with a video that showcased crowning moments from the games. Skyler sat with Madonna, Jeff and Clay to watch the video. He'd decided that he wouldn't perform the single anywhere in Sydney, because he was still recording.

Jase shocked him the very next day with the news that the video and single for "So Close" and "Tell Me Why" were being released that day. Two days later, Skyler shocked all of them with the news that his album was finished. The entire group boarded a plane to head for Mexico, renting SUVs to drive from Mexico City to Orlando, arriving three days after leaving Sydney.

"Skyler!" cried Laura's weak voice when Skyler and Jeff walked into the family house in Orlando. "How did you get here?"

"We flew to Mexico and drove across the boarder," laughed Skyler. "And here we are."

"Laura, I've got your water," said the voice of a man that Skyler hadn't met yet, but he knew him on site. His chocolate brown hair was cut short in the back, but waved across his forehead with subtle golden highlights. He was dressed in a pin striped shirt, charcoal pants with black shoes. His brown eyes sparkled as he smiled at Skyler. "Hello, Skyler."

"Gavin Hunter," Skyler said, returning the smile and offering his hand. "I was very impressed with Joshua Taylor."

"I'm glad," he said, smiling wider. "You and I are going to be working together for a while. At least until Laura is back on her feet."

"Nice to have you aboard," Skyler said.

Skyler and Jeff sat with Laura and Gavin while Jase unpacked and repacked his and Mike's bags. Christian and Chip took Justin and went to their apartment while Madonna sat in the kitchen with Preston. They talked about what Skyler expected of Gavin, and what Gavin expected of Skyler.

By the time Jeff left to pick up Alyssa and Jeff Junior, Skyler and Gavin were laughing like old friends. Gavin wasn't much older than Skyler, and the two found that they had a lot in common. They were still sitting there, chatting with Laura and Jase when Jeff returned with the children.

Skyler got hugs and kisses from the children before they went to play with Preston, and Jeff asked him if they were going to spend the night in the new house or in the family house. Skyler assured him that he'd be ready to go to the new house in a little while. They had dinner with Laura and Jase before they left for home.

The children loved their new rooms and played until Skyler announced that it was bath time for Jeff Junior and Preston. Jeff took care of Alyssa's bath in the master bathroom while Skyler soaped and scrubbed the two boys in their own bathroom down the hall. Once they had the children all tucked in for the night, Skyler and Jeff sat in the living room.

"This is nice," said Jeff. "We're finally home."

"It's beautiful," Skyler said, looking around the room. "I just wish we were staying."

"When do you want to start driving for New Orleans?" Jeff asked, thinking of the ten hour drive with three children.

"Well Jase is planning to leave tomorrow," said Skyler. "He's taking Laura and Gavin with him. I thought we'd stick around for another day. I'm not ready to give up the house just yet."

After checking on the children, Skyler and Jeff went to the balcony right outside the master bedroom and took their clothes off before slipping into the hot tub to soak. They talked about what was coming. Skyler told him that he'd have a lot of promotional work to do, and he reminded Jeff of the award ceremonies that he'd have to attend. Renny was confident that The Great Hunt would gain at least one Oscar, and he wanted all of the stars to be there for the big night.

After they'd had their fill of the hot water, they dried off and went to bed, tangling themselves together. Skyler touched, stroked and licked as much of Jeff's body as he could get to without changing positions. Jeff did his best to return the favor, and soon they were panting as they ground their bodies together, deriving pleasure as much as giving. They disentangled themselves to further the pleasure and finally collapsed against each other two hours later.

"God," sighed Jeff as he kissed Skyler's neck. "You know all the ways to drive me crazy."

"We've had plenty of practice," chuckled Skyler. "I love to touch you."

"Oh, baby," said Jeff. "I love it when you touch me."

"Jeff, do you ever think about having another child?" Skyler asked out of the blue.

"Not really," replied Jeff. "Why? Do you want another child?"

Skyler was silent for a few minutes as he thought about how great it was to have Preston in his life. Sure, with Jeff's kids he had siblings to play with, but Skyler thought that maybe it would be nice to have a child together instead of just the "his and his" that they had. He thought that they had enough love to give another child.

"I want a child with you," he said finally. "I have Preston, and you have Alyssa and Jeff Junior. Jeff, I want us to have a child together."

"You mean adopt?" he asked.

"Maybe," Skyler said. "I'm not sure what I mean at this point."

"Skyler, I would love to have a child with you," said Jeff, stroking Skyler's chest as he spoke. "I'd love to have one any way you want."

"Even if I wanted to find one surrogate mother who would be willing to carry first yours and then mine?" he asked.

"Two children?" Jeff asked.

"One would be your child, the other would be mine," he said. "But they would truly be siblings, Jeff."

"Don't you think you should marry me before we start having more children?" Jeff asked, hoping that Skyler understood that he wasn't joking about getting married or having children.

"Wait," said Skyler, turning in the bed to look Jeff in the eye. "Did you just ask me to marry you?"

"Yes, I did," he replied.

"But same sex marriage isn't legal," said Skyler.

"It is in Canada," replied Jeff.

"But that would mean coming out of the closet," Skyler breathed.

"It would," Jeff said. "I'm not asking you to fly to Canada tomorrow, Sky. I'm asking that we get married before we decide to look for someone to carry children for us."

"Are you sure you're ready to come out?" Skyler asked.

"Well not today," he said. "One day I will be. What I'm asking is if you think that you'll be ready one day, too. And if so, when that time comes, will you marry me?"

"Yes," Skyler said, smiling wide. "Yes, I'll marry you."

"Oh, Sky," Jeff said, smiling back as he grabbed him and pulled him close. He kissed his lips and then left kisses all over his face. "You make me so happy it's sickening."

With their passion rekindled, they became a tangled mess of limbs again. Skyler thought about what Jeff had said about one day and wondered what it would be like to be out to the world. Would it hurt his career? If it meant having Jeff and the children, would he care?

* * *

"Congratulations, Skyler," Laura beamed when he told her about his and Jeff's conversation from the night before. They'd gone over to the family house to see them off and explain that they were staying for one more night.

"Understand, though, this may not happen for a long time," he said, smiling at her. "It will happen, though."

"Oh, I know it will," she said. "I can see how much the two of you love each other, and I think more children is a wonderful idea. I've seen how much joy these little ones bring the two of you. When I think about how worried I was when I first learned that you were going to adopt Preston I just laugh. I've seen you hold power meetings while feeding him. You truly can do everything, Sky."

"Well I don't know about that," he said, smiling. "I would like another child, though."

"Two of them, if I remember right," laughed Jeff as he came back into the room.

"Well we've both got to have one," Skyler explained to Laura. "How else would the be 'ours'?"

"I think I understand what you mean, Skyler," she said. "I think it's wonderful. Congratulations, Jeff."

"Thank you, Laura," he said, beaming at her. "Now all I have to do is figure out how to make the world more tolerant, so he'll come out of the closet with me."

"It'll happen," she said. "I'm sure of it."

They stayed until Jase had everyone packed up in the SUV. Laura waved at him from the back seat as he drove away. Skyler'd had a short discussion with Jase before he'd loaded everyone. It seemed that leaving Skyler and Jeff behind made Jase a little uncomfortable. Skyler had assured his uncle that they would be fine and would see him in a few days.

When they got back to their own house, Skyler sat in the middle of the living room floor to play with the children. He'd missed Alyssa and JR very much. The baby had grown so much. He was walking now, and Skyler felt like he'd missed so much in his life. It occurred to him that he was worried about missing things in the lives of two children that weren't really his. They couldn't ever be really his. They had a mother that wouldn't allow that. He thought again about having more children, children that only belonged to him and Jeff. He smiled as he thought about it and held JR just a bit tighter.

"Caught you," Jeff said as he eased himself down onto the floor beside Skyler. "Thinking about more babies again?"

"Guilty," Skyler said, leaning toward him so they could kiss. "I really want to have more kids, Jeff."

"I'm not against the idea, Sky," replied Jeff. "I just think we should be married and out of the closet before we have children of our own."

"Out of the closet," Skyler sighed. The very idea made him uneasy.

It wasn't as if he was ashamed of his sexuality. He had become very comfortable with the fact that he was a homosexual. He was comfortable with the select people who knew this fact about him. What he wasn't sure about was his career after the world knew this fact about him.

"Look," said Jeff, resting his chin on Skyler's shoulder. "Neither of us are ready to come out right now. Like I said last night, I just want to be able to do it when I'm ready, when we're ready."

"I'll be ready one day, Jeff," Skyler said after a moment. "I promise."

"Sky, I don't want you to try to be ready for me," Jeff replied. "I want this to be a mutual decision that we're both comfortable with."

"All right," said Skyler. "Then let's discuss it from time to time, weigh the pros and cons."

"That sounds fair," Jeff said. "I love you."

"I love you, too," said Skyler. "And I very much want to marry you."

"Skyler, I would marry you right now if I thought we were ready for all that it would imply," Jeff said.

The fact that JR was falling asleep in Skyler's arms told them that they should put the discussion off for a while. Jeff helped Skyler get all three kids to their beds for an afternoon nap, mentally scolding himself for letting them nap without having had lunch. They stood in the doorways to watch them sleep for a few minutes before going back downstairs to get sandwiches.

They were sitting in the kitchen with the baby monitors turned on when the phone rang. Skyler answered it and sighed. "Hi, Dad."

"Just checking in, Sky," said his father. "Chad was asking when you were coming."

"We're planning to head for New Orleans tomorrow morning," Skyler replied. "I booked our train tickets. Jase is already on his way with Laura and Gavin."

"He called earlier to let me know he was on the road," said Ben. "I was a little disappointed that you weren't on the road as well."

"I know, but this is our first time in the new house, Dad," Skyler said. "We have no idea how long we'll be in LA, and we wanted to spend at least a little time here."

"Oh, I understand, Sky," replied Ben. "I just miss you, and I miss my grandchildren."

"We all miss you, too," he said. "Preston has asked for you at least twenty times since we got here."'

"Is he nearby?"

"They're all down for a nap at the moment," Skyler said. "Sorry."

"No, that's all right," sighed Ben. "Cassie has some news for you when you get here. She doesn't want me to say anything over the phone, though."

"Well we'll be there in four days, Dad," he said. "Tell her to be patient just a little while longer."

"Will do," said Ben. "Kiss the kids for me, and give our love to Jeff."

"I will, Dad," he said. "You do the same for the gang there."

"All right, Kid," said Ben. "We'll see you soon."

"Love you, Dad," Skyler said.

"Love you, too," Ben replied.

"Dad can really lay it on," Skyler said as he hung up the phone.

"Guilt trip?"

"Big time," Skyler said. "Chad wants to know when I'm coming, and Cassie has news that she won't share over the phone."

"Yeah," sighed Jeff.

"Oh, I'm supposed to give you their love," Skyler said.

"That was nice," Jeff said, smiling.

The rest of the day was spent lounging with the kids. They did nothing strenuous and talked about nothing important. Most of their speech was "child speak" to make the kids laugh. They made up for not feeding them lunch by making their favorite foods for dinner. Skyler helped JR while Jeff got Preston and Alyssa settled and ready to eat.

"Two more of these, and we might have a problem," said Jeff as he put food in front of the kids.

"By the time we have them, these will be older," Skyler said.

"Yeah," Jeff said. "Then I'll really want another baby."

"Me, too," Skyler said.

* * *

"Well, Cassie, how'd it go?" Ben asked as Cassie and Kaleb came into the house.

"It was great, Dad," she said, smiling. "I got through three today."

"That's great, honey," he said, hugging her. "Your brother called. He and Jeff decided to spend another night in Orlando. They'll get on the road tomorrow morning."

"Sounds good," she said. "How's Chad?"

"He had some trouble this morning, but he's doing all right now," Ben said. "He's in the kitchen with your mom."

"I saw Justy's video today," she said. "Made me cry."

"Yeah," said Ben with a smile. "It's a pretty powerful song."

"Is he going to be recording an album?" she asked.

"Somehow, I don't think Chip would be too happy about that, Cass," he said with a sigh.

"That sucks," she said. "He's good."

"Yes, but Chip doesn't really like his son being a celebrity," Ben reminded.

"After the movie comes out he's going to have to get used to it," she said. "Skyler said that Justin's a natural."

"Yeah, he said the same thing to me," Ben said, wondering how Chip was going to deal with Justin's life after the movie premeired.

Cassie went to the kitchen to collect Chad and then up the stairs to her room. The two had talked privately every day since he'd been able to get out of bed. He apologized for being so mean to everyone each time they talked, and she hoped that she was getting through to him. She wanted him to understand that no one was holding a grudge.

"How many did you record today?" Chad asked as soon as they were seated on her bed.

"Three," she said, smiling. "Kaleb even sang with me for one."

"He's a good singer," Chad said, nodding.

"Your a good singer," she prodded, nudging him slightly.

"Not anymore," he sighed. "Sky probably won't even let me near the studio again."

"Come on, Chad," she said, taking his hand. "Sky's not mad at you. He hasn't been mad at you. None of us have. We've all been worried."

"I'm a shit, Cass," he said with the tears welling in his eyes.

"You're not a shit, Chad," she said, scooting closer so she could take him in her arms.

"I feel like one," he said when the hug ended.

"You're getting better, Chad," she said. "Everyone will be here in a few days, and you'll see. None of us are mad."

"I just wish Sky was here already," he sighed, scrubbing his eyes with his fists. "I feel like he's avoiding me."

"He's not, though," she said.

"At least Darby came to see me today," he sighed. "I thought I'd lost her for sure."

"She loves you, Chad," Cassie said. "I talked to her yesterday for a few hours. She's so happy that you're not doing the drugs anymore. Did you know her mother died of an overdose?"

"She told me that," sighed Chad. "I was an insensitive prick to her, and she still loves me."

"You weren't insensitive," she argued. "You didn't know."

"No, but she told me she didn't like drugs," he said. "I did them anyway."

"All right," she said. "Enough of this. I want you back to your old self, Chad. I miss you."

"I'm trying, Cassie," he said. "It isn't easy."

"I didn't mean to imply that you weren't trying, or that it was easy," she said. "But the first step is to admit to yourself that you have a problem, and no one is angry with you because of it."

"You sound like the drug counselor," he laughed.

"I'm serious," she said.

"Okay," he sighed. "I know I have to accept that I have a problem. I know that everyone is saying they aren't angry with me. I know that you want me to be the way I used to be. I want to be the way I used to be, but none of that is easy. I can't stop thinking about all of the really shitty things I did to everyone. I wouldn't even acknowledge Sky, and if it wasn't for him we'd have died in Detroit."

"Skyler loves you, Chad," she said. "He hasn't stopped."

"Well maybe I feel like he should stop loving me," Chad sighed.

So Close is a song by Jon McGlaughlin.
Tell My Why is a song written by Al Alberts and Marty Gold.

The next chapter will be posted soon.