© 2005-2010 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved


Chapter 94


"All right," sighed Clay. "That's all I have on the Deacon Ola front. He's in the studio today. Both Andrew and Eddie are with him."

"Why don't we talk about Landon Fox," said Gavin, looking at Skyler. "You said you want to produce the single. He was with you at the release party last night, did he say anything about finishing the song?"

"He said he has lyrics for me to look over," replied Skyler. "He'll be here later today so I can take a look. Have you found any budding singers that you think would sound good with him?"

"I have," Gavin said with a smile. "Do you remember Brett Shay?"

Brett Shay was a young man who'd been doing a lot of background vocals on several of the new albums from Sky High musicians. He'd worked on Cory's album as well as Brody's. Skyler had met the guy only once. He had a nice voice, but it was made for harmonizing. He was a good looking kid, who smiled all the time. Skyler remembered that.

"I do," he said. "You think he'll sound good with Landon?"

"I think he'll sound good with anyone," said Gavin seriously. "This is evidenced in the fact that he blended right in with Cory's voice on his record as well as Carlos's voice on his. I think that Brett will do fine with Landon, but you're wanting more than a background vocalist, right?"

"Right," said Skyler. "I'm thinking of forming a group here. I know I'm in no position to monitor their career, but I'd like to be involved as much as possible. Gavin, this is my project."

"No one is trying to take it away from you, Sky," said Gavin. "I like the idea. What I heard of the song was amazing. I do think that you're going to have to find musicians who can break it down into sheet music. The kid can't drag a computer around on tour."

"I've thought about that, actually," said Skyler. "I'll let you find musicians. I have an idea for the third member of this group though. Jeff and I were talking about a guy that had been on tour with Carlos when he opened for my show. I remember listening to him sing through his parts of Carlos's songs in rehearsal. He was singing alone, and I think he's perfect. I'm talking about Dave Keller."

"Wasn't he in the studio this morning?" asked Clay, looking at Gavin.

"He was," said Gavin. "But he's not working with anyone right now. He was there to collect his check. He stopped to talk with a few people though. I'm thinking he was hunting for more work."

"Well then this might be something that'll interest him," said Skyler. "I'd like to talk to both Brett and Dave before I bring this idea to Landon. I haven't told him that I want to turn him into a group. He thinks I'm looking for background vocalists. I'm sure he'll like this idea though."

"All right," said Gavin as he wrote in his date book. "I can set up a meeting for you with both of them. At the same time?" Skyler nodded. "Then I'll have that for you in a day or so. Now they'll need to hear the music I'm sure. Do you have more copies?"

"I have a copy they can listen to, yes," said Skyler. "The important thing is that they listen to what I have to say."

"I'm sure they will," said Gavin with a smile. "I don't know about Dave, but you'll be making Brett's day."

"All right, let's talk about the reality show," said Clay as he shifted papers around in front of himself. "They've got the contestants down to forty, and Skyler, you told me that you've picked your twenty. Now out of those forty, five have to leave the show. There are scores on different events and the judges' decisions for you to look over. Now, you'll have final say no matter what the judges have to say about this contestant or that. Filming has been moved up, and it will once again be a live broadcast. It won't be after Christmas. We'll be filming on Christmas Eve."

"How will we be letting them know who's on which side?" Skyler asked.

"Christmas gifts," replied Gavin. "Each of them will have a gift waiting for them under the tree when they get to the platform. Gifts for your side are in gold paper. Brody's are in silver. Now there are six contestants on your side who will be called to the carpet. You'll be telling only one of them that he can stay. Brody will be doing the same thing."

"You realize that's sick, right?" Skyler asked with a smirk. "Christmas gifts?"

"There are actual gifts inside," laughed Gavin. "We paid a lot of money for them, too."

"What did we get them?" Skyler asked.

"There are three gifts in each box," said Gavin. "A T-shirt, a hat and a hand held MP3 player loaded with your music or Brody's. The shirt and hat have either your name or Brody's on them."

"That was a lot of money?" laughed Skyler. "We're cheap."

"Whatever," replied Gavin. "Are you going to see Carlos and Cory tonight?"

"I think we all are," replied Skyler. "I have to check with Jase, but as far as I know he's still planning to attend. We have tickets."

"You didn't need tickets," laughed Clay.

"Well we bought them anyway," said Skyler. "How's Lilly doing?"

"She's going to be working again very soon," said Gavin. "She's signed on for six episodes of 'The V Word'."

"The vampire show?" Skyler asked. "Is she going to be a victim?"

"Not at all," replied Clay. "Lilly is playing the vampire queen."

"Very nice," said Skyler. "I hadn't heard much about her lately. I've been so wrapped up in hating the reality show."

"Speaking of the show," said Gavin. "You're going to be there for filming tomorrow night, right?"

"I'll be there," sighed Skyler. "What exactly are we filming tomorrow?"

"You'll be introducing the dancers to James tomorrow," said Gavin. "As soon as they're divided on Christmas Eve, James will start running through parts of what he's got for your tour with them."

"So then I'll be filming a lot more soon?" Skyler asked.

"Not really," said Clay. "You don't have to be there for these sessions at all. He's only giving them parts of the routine. Nothing that he's going to teach them requires you to be there. He's going to assess which of them gets it and which don't."

"Oh all right," sighed Skyler. "I'll be there."

"Good boy," laughed Gavin. "That's all I have for today."

"I think that wraps us up then," said Clay. "That is unless Skyler has more singers he wants us to work with."

"No," laughed Skyler. "I'm fresh out of talented people to shove down your throats. Deacon and Landon will have to do for now."

"Seriously get with him about the lyrics," said Gavin as he put his papers back in his briefcase.

"He'll be here later today," Skyler reminded him. "Don't worry so much, Gavin, it'll turn you gray."

"Shut up," laughed Gavin. "I'll see you guys tomorrow at the school."

Once they were safely out of the house Skyler went looking for Jeff. He searched the downstairs and there was no sign of him or the children. Skyler smiled as he thought about where they were. He knew they were upstairs in one of the kids' rooms, playing. He decided to let Jeff have his time with the children and headed for the studio to work on his top secret new song. He got out the back door and was startled to see Chad sitting in a lounge chair with his black-out sunglasses on his face. He appeared to be staring at the pool.

Something struck Skyler about the way Chad was sitting there. He couldn't put his finger on it, but it made him nervous. He made his way around the pool to where Chad was sitting and took the chair next to his. The sun was warm as it beat down on them. Skyler was instantly sorry that he didn't have his sunglasses with him.

"Hey, Chad," he said. "What're you doin' out here all by yourself?"

"Thinking," sighed Chad. "What're you up to?"

"I was gonna go into the studio and play for a bit," he replied. "But I saw you and realized we haven't really talked lately."

"You're busy," said his brother. There was something about the sound of his voice that Skyler didn't like. There was a hollow quality to it.

"I'm never too busy to sit and talk with you, Chad," he said softly. "Care to tell me what's on your mind?"

"Court," sighed Chad. "The same thing that's been on my mind since I could focus on more than the pain in my guts."

"Wanna talk about it?" Skyler asked softly.

"I'm scared, Sky," said his brother. "I don't want to go to prison."

"Buddy, I don't think you're going to go to prison," said Skyler. "Your lawyer doesn't think you're going to go to prison either. The judge is trying to scare you."

"It's working," he replied. "He said he wants to make an example out of me, Sky. What does that tell you? It tells me that he's going to throw my ass in a cell and forget about me for a number of years."

"Your lawyer said he's going to talk to the judge about alternatives to jail, Chad," said Skyler. "Your dancers are going to testify for you, the family is going to testify for you and Darby's going to testify for you. You're not going to go to jail."

"You can't fix this one, Sky," Chad said sadly. Skyler could see a tear slide down from under the sunglasses. "Do you remember when we were little and we weren't allowed to be in the house in the day time?"

"I remember," Skyler said, his mind filling with images he'd rather not have thought of.

"You always tried to make it into a game for me and Cassie," said Chad. "In the winter you helped us build snowmen and forts. You taught us to throw snowballs and how to make snow angels. In the summer you took us to the corner store to get candy and we would go across the street to play with Dale while you and Peter played basketball. You always looked out for us. This time you can't look out for me, Sky."

"Chad . . . "

"Don't worry about me, Sky," he said, cutting him off. "I'll be all right. I'm just scared about court. I need to think this through. I promise that if I need you, I'll come and get you."

Skyler sat there as Chad got up and walked around the pool and into the house. He felt helpless when he looked at his brother. There really wasn't much he could do to save him this time. The knowledge made him angry and depressed at the same time. He'd always looked out for the twins. All through their lives he'd been the one constant thing that they could count on, and now this had happened. Now there was nothing he could do.

He thought about Chad and what was likely going to happen to him for the rest of the day. Landon showed up just after lunch with the words for his song. Skyler read them over, thinking about how excited he'd been to hear Chad's first song. The lyrics were good. He took Landon into the studio to record the song with all of the lyrics. It sounded wrong because some of what he'd written needed to be sung by other voices, but Skyler had that covered.

"I can't figure out why it sounds bad," Landon sighed when they listened to the play back.

"You just need back up," said Skyler. "I wanted you to record this so that I could play it for a few singers to see if they want to tackle it with you. Landon, what do you think about being one member of a trio or a quartet?"

"You mean a boy band?" Landon asked.

"Don't call it that," Skyler replied. "I hate that term. But for lack of anything better, yes."

"Well if we sound good together I don't think it would matter much one way or the other," said Landon after a minute. "Do you have other guys in mind?"

"I do, actually," Skyler informed him, deciding to just tell him what he had planned. "I'll be meeting with Brett Shay and Dave Keller very soon to discuss this with them. I'd like you to be there when I meet with them. I'll let them listen to the song, and if they're willing I'll get the three of you in the studio to record it and we'll see."

"So you want three of us?" Landon asked.

"Well I have ideas about two more people, but if the three of you sound good by yourselves then I'm inclined to go with a trio," said Skyler. "Make no mistake, Landon, I plan to make you famous. I want the world to see you, all three of you. If you sound even a fraction as good as I think you will then I'm going to push and bitch and scream until you have an album, a bunch of videos and a million screaming fans."

"All right," Landon said slowly with huge eyes.

"I'm serious, Landon," Skyler said with a smile. "With the right marketing and promotion you guys could be huge."

"So you're going to be involved in this all the way?" Landon asked.

"No," sighed Skyler. "As much as I'd like to be I can't. I have my own career to look after. I'm going on tour in May, I've got the damned reality show going on, video shoots and promotions of my own. What I'm going to do is produce this single and put the group together as quickly as I can. Then I'm going to decide which agent and manager inside Sky High would best represent you, and I'm going to make sure that they keep me very well informed about what's happening with your music and what you're all up to."

"Deacon's not going to like this," sighed Landon.

"Why?" Skyler asked. "He's already got a record deal. He's in the studio right now, recording his record. He has very talented musicians working on that record with him, and Eddie Casabian is taking very good care of him. Why should what you're doing matter to him at all?"

"He thinks that I horned in on his big thing," replied Landon.

"Well I'll tell you this," said Skyler. "Once I get all of the members of this group together, you won't be worrying about Deacon Ola so much anymore. I'm sure that you'll still want to talk to him and all of that, but you'll move to Orlando with the rest of the group."

"Orlando?" Landon gasped. "Why?"

"Because that's where I'm putting the group," replied Skyler. "Trust me, groups like this thrive better in Orlando than here in L. A."

"All right," Landon said slowly.

"So what's Deacon said to you?" Skyler asked.

"He said that I just had to push my tape on you when it was his time," Landon said, shaking his head. "He believes that I couldn't stand him being the one that got the deal, so I pushed myself at you."

"But you didn't push yourself," said Skyler. "Deacon'll be all right. If I need to, I'll have a talk with him about all of this. You don't worry about Deacon. I'll worry about it."

"But I have to live with him," replied Landon.

"Not exactly," Skyler said slowly. "You don't have to stay at the hotel with him if you don't want to, Landon."

He thought about it for a minute. He owned the company, and the company was now buying the school that had been transformed into the studio for "Techno Cowboy". There was plenty of room, and Landon wouldn't be lonely. He wouldn't have to be on camera just because he was living there with the contestants. Four of Skyler's dancers were living there and only two were on camera. One of them didn't even live there. It was perfect.

"But where would I go?" Landon asked. "We came to L. A. together."

"I'll move you to the school," replied Skyler. "Let me make a few calls first. You go back to the hotel and pack. I'll talk to Deacon about it. I'll send Dominic with you, and he can bring you back here when you've packed."

"But I don't want Deacon to think I just ran out on him," Landon said slowly.

"He won't," assured Skyler. "I'll tell him that I moved you so you could work on your music. It's kind of the truth. You'll be working with musicians to transcribe your music into sheet music. I'll even hold the little meeting with the other guys there. There's a booth where they can hear the song and everything. This is perfect. Trust me."

"You're the boss," replied Landon with a lopsided grin that made him look adorable.

Skyler smiled at him and then sent him off with Dominic. He called Gavin first and told him that he was putting Landon in the school for the time being and explained what he had in mind for the group. He called Clay after that and told him basically the same things. Clay told him that it would work out all right and had nothing negative to say about it. Then he called Eddie and asked that Deacon be brought to the house after recording finished for the day.

"Hey, Sky," said Mark as he came into the study. Skyler was just off the phone with Eddie when he came in. "Need to talk to you."

"Have a seat," replied Skyler with a smile.

"Well, first I want to thank you for everything you did after the Shelly incident," said Mark. "I don't know where I'd be if not for you."

"Mark, you're my best friend," replied Skyler. "I know we don't get to hang out all that much, but I love you, man. Of course I was here for you."

"I love you, too," Mark said with a smile. "However, this place is getting a little crowded. I found a place near the studio."

"So you're moving?" Skyler asked.

"That's the plan," he said. "I already paid for the condo, so I'll be moving my stuff over there throughout the week."

"But you'll be here for Christmas?" Skyler asked quickly.

"Oh yeah," replied Mark. "Wouldn't miss it for anything."

"Well then," Skyler said with a smile. "I'll have to get over there and see your condo when you're all set up."

"Can't wait," said Mark. "Listen, I've got to get back to the studio. I just wanted to let you know what I was up to."

"Thanks, Mark," said Skyler.

Lunch was a quiet affair. Mark, Jase and Jason were all gone to either the studio or the school. Chad and Darby were at Darby's place to have lunch, and Skyler and Jeff had the children. They got them fed and taken care of before they sat down with grilled chicken salads for themselves.

"You've had a busy day today," Jeff said as they sat at the table.

"And it's not over yet," sighed Skyler. "I have Deacon being dropped off after recording finishes for the day. I need to straighten something out with him and let him know that I'm moving Landon to the school. Apparently there's some hard feelings between the two of them about Landon's music."

"That sucks," said Jeff. "Why are they fighting?"

"Well I'm not sure it's come to fighting just yet," Skyler replied. "But Landon says that Deacon is upset that I'm working with him on his music. Landon's afraid that once I get everything going, Deacon will be even more upset about it. This way I can head that off and separate them before anything crazy happens."

"Look at you!" laughed Jeff. "You're turning into a manager."

"The idea is appealing," replied Skyler honestly. "I can see myself as a manager."

"But you're not ready to stop singing and acting yet, right?" Jeff asked.

"Not yet," laughed Skyler. "Give me time."

"Renny called," said Jeff. "I forgot about it while you were talking about Deacon and Landon."

"He called already?" Skyler asked. "He can't be ready to start filming again."

"He just said to have you call him back," replied Jeff. "If he is ready, please tell me you're not going to head straight for Australia after the tour, Sky."

"Oh I have no intention of returning to the set so quickly," Skyler assured him. "I've got other things in mind."

"Good," said Jeff. "Just as long as it isn't a bunch of stuff that'll keep you bouncing all over the world."

"No," said Skyler. "I was thinking of taking a break, actually. I seriously need one. I'll need one even more after the tour."

"A break sounds good," agreed Jeff. "But I know you. I won't hold my breath."

"Way to support me," chuckled Skyler.

Deacon arrived two hours later, and Jase followed him into the house with a big smile on his face. Skyler was afraid of that smile. He was sure that Jase was about to tell him that he was needed on the set again. He'd promised that Skyler had no more scenes and there were no re-shoots for him. He just hoped that Jase kept that promise. He had no desire to return to the set for anything more than video shoots.

"We're done," said Jase, smiling wider.

"Seriously?" Skyler asked.

"Yeah," said Jase. "The effects people have it, and then it goes to editing. We're through though. I told them I'm not filming anything else on it."

"That's great!" Skyler beamed.

"Well I'm not holding a party until it's out of editing," replied Jase. "No sense. You're too busy at the moment to party anyway."

"I am not," argued Skyler. "I'm not near as busy as Gavin and Clay are."

"You still interested in what we talked about the other day?" Jase asked.

What they'd talked about for four straight hours that day was Skyler's desire to direct a movie. He knew that he'd have to serve as an assistant director a few times before he'd know all that he needed, but he was ready. Jase had told him he'd look into a film for him. Skyler hoped that he hadn't found one that he expected Skyler to work on any time soon.

"I'm still interested, but I have a message to call Renny back," Skyler said. "He's probably wanting to film. I've also got the show to take up my time, a new album out, promotions, and then there's Landon's music and getting the entire group together so I can get them record this song. Jase I've just got so much going on right now."

"I wasn't going to suggest that we get to work on a film right now, Sky," Jase said, smiling. "I was just wanting to ask what type of film you wanted to cut your teeth on."

"Oh," Skyler said, smiling. He felt like an idiot, but he was terrified of more work when he had so much going already. "I'm not sure. Let me call Renny and then talk to Deacon. Then I'll come find you and we'll talk about possibilities."

"Sounds like a plan," replied Jase.

"Deacon, I'll be with you in a moment," Skyler said to the young musician.

He went into the office and called Renny's private number. He was fully prepared to tell the man that he had no intention of returning to a movie set any time in the next few months. He would just have to wait. That was all there was to it. He had to prepare for the tour on top of everything else, and a movie wasn't going to fit into his schedule.

"Renny, it's Skyler," he said when the connection was made.

"Sky, I'm glad you called," said Renny. "I wanted to give you a heads up about The Wheel of Time."

"Please tell me you're not ready to start shooting," Skyler sighed.

"That's just it," said Renny. "I won't be directing any of the new installments."

"Oh," replied Skyler in shock. "What's happened?"

"Only that my contract with Warner is up," said Renny. "I've decided to work on other projects. I hope you understand."

"Of course I understand," Skyler said, silently wondering who they would get to direct the next one. "Warner won't be involved with the next one anyway. Sky High has all of the rights to the series now."

"I didn't know that," said Renny. "It still doesn't change things. I really want to do other things."

"I completely understand that," said Skyler. "Will you be working on anything for Sky High?"

"If they give me a script I think is worth my time," he replied. "Don't get me wrong, I like what's come out of your company so far, but you just never know about a script until you've read it."

"Understood," replied Skyler. That was true with any company. "Thanks for letting me know, Renny."

"I didn't want to opt out without letting you know why," said the director. "Maybe we'll work together on something else in the future."

"I'd like that," Skyler said, smiling. "Keep in touch."

"Will do," replied Renny. "Bye, Skyler."

Skyler was stunned when he got off the phone with Renny. The man wouldn't be directing any of the upcoming sequels. Skyler wondered who they'd get to direct them. He couldn't direct and star at the same time. That was out of the question. He thought about it as he walked out of the office and was confronted with Jase and Deacon once again in the living room. Jeff must have taken the kids upstairs.

"What's with the look, Sky?" Jase asked.

"Renny won't be directing any of the sequels for The Wheel of Time," said Skyler. "He's walking away to do other things."

"What? Why?" Jase asked, his eyes wide.

"I don't know," said Skyler. "He just said that he wanted to do other things now."

"Who's directing the next one?" Jase asked.

"I have no idea," replied Skyler. "I guess I'll have to talk to Clay about that. We'll figure it out."

"What I wouldn't give to direct one of those," Jase said, smiling wide.

Skyler thought about that for a minute. He knew now what to expect from Jase as a director. They'd gotten along famously while filming already. If he couldn't direct and star at the same time it would be better if he at least had a relationship with the director. Jase was good at what he did, and Skyler was actually kind of curious to see what Jase would come up with.

"I'll see what I can do to make sure that happens for you," he said after a minute.

"Thanks, Sky," said Jase, smiling at him.

"Well, if you'll excuse me," said Skyler, turning to face his uncle. "I need to have a chat with Deacon."

"Sure thing," said Jase. "I need to get Mike and head out for a bit. I promised him some time at the batting cages."

"Sounds fun," Skyler said, smiling.

"Catch ya later, Sky," said Jase as he turned to leave. "Deacon."

"Nice to see you again, Jase," said Deacon.

"Pleasure," Jase said with a smile as he left the room.

"Deacon, I want to talk about your music and Landon's," Skyler said, sitting down on the couch and motioning for him to sit across from him in the recliner. "Now Landon tells me there's some friction between the two of you because of his music."

"I wouldn't call it friction," Deacon said slowly. "I developed a bit of a big head for a minute, but I fully intend to apologize to him. I'm really happy that you want to work on his music with him, Skyler. Landon is my best friend, more like a brother than my real brothers. I want him to succeed."

"I'm glad to hear that," Skyler said. "Let me be the first to tell you that Landon will succeed. I won't rest until his music is out there. Now I don't want that to make you feel like he's stepping on your toes or anything. You already have a record deal, you're recording and I've heard some of the raw product. It's good, Deacon. It's really good. You have nothing to fear from Landon at this point. Your sound is much different than his."

"Skyler, I promise that I'm not upset about Landon's music," Deacon said quickly. "I just had to wrap my head around my own ego. It took me a night but I get it. This is actually kind of perfect. We can actually say that got our breaks at the same time."

"Well I need to let you in on what's happening on the Landon front," Skyler sighed, wondering if his steps to remove Landon from the hotel were premature. Regardless they were complete. Landon was already settling in at the school. "I've moved him out of your hotel room. He's going to be staying at the school where the reality show is being filmed. Now the reason for that is that I have a lot of work to do on his voice, his music needs to be transcribed into sheet music, and I'm looking into some back up for him. I don't want you to think that he ran off or anything. This was all me."

"I'll miss him, but if this gets his career going then I'm all for it," said Deacon.

"His being at the school doesn't mean that the two of you won't see each other anymore," Skyler said quickly. "I can take you to the school later today if you want. Do you know where it is?"

"Yeah," Deacon replied. "We drove past it when Gavin was giving me the ‘Sky High Tour' yesterday."

"Well I'll get them to put your name on the list so you can get in when you want," said Skyler. "The only time you won't get in is when they're filming something, which is usually at night."

"Thanks, Skyler," Deacon said softly.

"Actually I'm supposed to be over there tonight for a meeting with my choreographer and my core dancers," said Skyler. "I'll just take you with me if you'd like."

"That sounds good," he said. "If Landon isn't at the hotel there really isn't anything waiting for me there."

"You can hang out here," Skyler replied, feeling a bit like an ass for leaving the guy all alone. "In fact, why don't you just move in here for a while?"

"I don't want to intrude on you," said Deacon. "You've got a full house."

"Mark is moving out, and Drew went back to his dad's," said Skyler. "There's room, and you really don't need to be all alone over there in the hotel."

"If you're sure," he said slowly.

"Deacon, you need to learn one thing about me," Skyler said, smiling. "I never say anything when I'm not sure about it."

It took just over an hour to get Deacon all moved out and checked out of the hotel and into the guest room that had been vacated by Drew. Rain had started to fall while they were at the hotel, and by the time they reached the house it was really coming down. The sky got darker as storm clouds rolled in. Skyler wasn't exactly happy to see the storm come. He didn't fancy running around in it later.

"You guys are wet," chuckled Jeff when Skyler and Deacon came in with boxes.

"It's like the storm of the century out there," Skyler replied. "Help with these, please. We need to change clothes."

"Hurry," said Jeff. "Your dad wants you to call him as soon as you get back."

"Oh, great," sighed Skyler. "I really wanted to fight with my dad today."

"Yeah, and Brent wants to know who all from security you want with you tonight," Jeff said as Skyler handed him his box.

"We're just going to the school," said Skyler, thinking that the press would likely be there. "Tell him to pick six besides himself. Deacon will need security, too. You're coming tonight, right?"

"Wouldn't miss it," replied Jeff. "Go dry off."

Skyler took the stairs two at a time as Deacon and Jeff followed behind with the two boxes. He ducked into his room and stripped out of his clothes as soon as the door was closed. The guest room was at the other end of the hall but he wasn't taking chances. He stepped into the shower to have a quick rinse off before toweling dry and putting on his black jeans, tight white t-shirt and sandals. This was what he'd planned to wear to the meeting anyway.

Deacon was in dry clothes when Skyler got back downstairs, and he was happy to see that the young guy had dressed almost exactly like him. Instead of sandals, Deacon had on his black boots. He'd shrunk the jeans just as Skyler had suggested, and he really looked good. He sighed as he went to the phone to call his father.

"Skyler, I want your brother to come home," said his father as soon as he picked up the phone.

"Dad, that's between you and Jason," replied Skyler. "I'm not sure he wants to talk to you though. Last I heard you screamed at him and told him you wanted nothing to do with him."

"So he's letting Alex fill his head then," Ben said. It wasn't a question, and it made Skyler angry.

"Dad, I've got a lot going on tonight," he sighed. "I don't have time to argue with you about Alex or Jason. When you're ready to get over yourself I'll talk to you again."

He hung up the phone and turned to find Jeff watching him. He sighed and shook his head when Jeff lifted his eyebrows at him. He didn't want to talk about it. He just wanted to get through dinner and then get to the meeting. He couldn't wait for the day to end.

"You all right, Blondie?" asked Jeff as he came up behind him and wrapped his arms around Skyler's shoulders.

"I'm fine," he sighed, leaning against him. "My dad just needs to stop for a while. I need to catch my breath, and I can't do that with him hounding everyone about Alex. Now he wants Jason to come home after he told him he wanted nothing to do with him anymore. I don't get what my dad's problem is, but I won't stand for it anymore."

"The tour's lookin' pretty good about now, huh?" Jeff chuckled against his shoulder.

"Reading my mind?" Skyler asked, smiling.

"Come on," Jeff said, tugging him backward. "It's time to eat. Preston's been looking for you."

He followed Jeff to the table, laughing as Preston's face lit up as soon as he saw his daddy. He kissed the boy on top of his head and then sat in the chair beside his high chair to help him with his meal. A quick look around the table told him that Jase, Ali and Jason were not in residence. He wondered about Jase and Ali for a moment, but he knew exactly where Jason was.

They talked about anything and everything other than their father, show business or Chad's upcoming court case. Deacon told them about how he and Landon had met, when he decided that he wanted to be a singer and how happy he was to be there. Skyler assured him that he belonged with them for the time being but promised that soon enough he'd have a house of his own to live in.

Once dinner was over, Skyler and Jeff excused themselves to get the children ready for the night. Amy assured them both that she'd take great care of all three of the children and wished them a happy night. Skyler smiled and refrained from pointing out that he was headed to a meeting about the reality show that he hated so much. They kissed the children one more time and then collected Deacon and met Brent in the garage. Each of them were carrying large black umbrellas to shield them from the rain.

"All right," said Brent. "Skyler, Jeff and Deacon'll ride with me, Phil and Luka. I want you guys to take the other two vehicles and take the front and rear positions. The storm's starting to break up a bit which means the paparazzi will be out soon enough. Let's not let anything happen that they'll be made to regret later." He smiled at Skyler and winked. "Shall we?"

"So what kind of meeting are you going to, Skyler?" Deacon asked as they pulled out of the garage and got in line behind Dominic's group.

"We're going to go over a few things that have to happen during the live show on Monday," replied Skyler. "Something I wish I could get out of, but Clay and Gavin wouldn't hear of it."

"You hate the reality show that much?" Deacon asked.

"Well I'd almost say it's become the bane of my existence, but that title's reserved for a living person still," he replied.  "I called ahead though; Landon should be finished with his meeting so you guys can spend some time together while I'm stuck."

"What kind of meeting is Landon having?" Deacon asked.

"He was supposed to be meeting with a few musicians who could transcribe his music for him," replied Skyler. "We need sheet music for the band."

"Have you got him a band?" asked Deacon.

"Not yet," replied Skyler. "I don't want to say too much about what I'm doing for Landon right now. He doesn't even know much yet."

"Understood," chuckled Deacon.

"Don't laugh" replied Skyler. "You don't know what we've got going for you yet, either. You've only been recording so far."

"Point taken," Deacon replied soberly, making Skyler laugh.

"Don't tease the new blood," Jeff said, poking Skyler in the ribs.

"But its fun," Skyler pretended to protest. "Besides, they'll both know what's going on in their own careers soon enough."

"I'm not worried about what's coming yet," said Deacon as the procession slowed for a light. "I couldn't wait for this to happen. Now that it finally has I'm just going to take it as it comes and smile pretty for the cameras."

"That's a good attitude," said Jeff, looking to Skyler and seeing that something outside the vehicle had captured his attention.

"Jeff, look at that," Skyler said, pointing to a dark mass against the building they were stopped beside. "Wait."

"Sky, what?" he asked in confusion. Then he saw the mass move.

"Brent, that's a child!" Skyler said loudly. "Tell Dominic to stay put."

Without telling them what he was going to do, Skyler opened his door and got out of the vehicle. He was kneeling beside the child before Jeff and Brent could even get out of their seats. Skyler was saying something that Jeff couldn't hear until he got closer.

"It hurts," said a weak voice as blackened eyes looked up at Skyler. "I had to get away."

"What's your name?" Skyler asked the boy.

"Ashton," he replied. "Please don't make me go back. They'll hurt me again."

"Who, Ashton?" Skyler asked. "Who will hurt you?"

"My mom and dad," said the boy, and then he lost his grip on consciousness.

Jeff could see that the boy was in very bad shape. Both of his eyes were black, his lips were split and swollen and there was blood on the sidewalk around him; so much that the rain hadn't washed it away. Jeff's heart broke as he looked at the boy who couldn't be older than eleven or twelve.

"Call the police and an ambulance," Skyler said, turning to Brent. "Hurry, Brent. He's dying I think."

Things happened very fast after that. Jeff could hear Brent talking frantically into his cell phone. Dominic and the others surrounded them, and then he noticed that Deacon was standing beside him. The younger man's face was a mask of concern. Jeff was rooted to his spot. He couldn't believe what he was seeing.

Then out of nowhere a police cruiser swerved in behind the third SUV in their entourage. An ambulance followed quickly behind, sirens blazing. The policeman asked a million questions while the paramedics worked on the young boy. Skyler and Brent answered the questions quickly without taking their eyes off of the beaten boy.

"Where are you taking him?" Skyler asked the paramedics as soon as the policeman was finished with his questions.

"USC is closest, and he's a priority," replied one paramedic. It was hard to see them clearly in the rain.

"Brent, call Clay and tell him where we're going," said Skyler as he headed back to the SUV, tugging both Jeff and Deacon as he went. "Tell them we'll have to have the meeting later. Let's go. We'll follow the ambulance."

They followed the ambulance in a tense silence. The only talking came from Brent conferring with Dominic now and then about where they were going and then about calling Clay and Gavin. Skyler gripped Jeff's hand as they rode along in silence. He didn't know what to say about how horrible he felt for the boy. The very idea that parents would do something so horrible to their own child repulsed him on a deep level. He wanted to find them and hurt them like they'd hurt their son.

At the medical center, Ashton was taken straight through to one of the cubicles in the Trauma Center. Skyler and his entourage were made to wait in the waiting room, though a Dr. James Hively promised to keep them updated. He was an older man with thinning salt and pepper hair and compassionate blue eyes. He called Skyler by name and promised that he would let him know what was happening as soon as they knew the extent of Ashton's injuries.

The police came once again to talk to Skyler, Jeff and Brent. This time it was a detective with the LA Special Victims Unit. His name was Todd McFarland and he seemed to really feel for what they'd seen and for the boy. He asked patient, probing questions. What did the boy say to Skyler? How did Skyler find him? Did Skyler see the boy's parents or anyone else around? He was patient and thorough. When he left, he promised to be in touch.

Then a woman named Jane Sprick arrived. She was a tall, no nonsense looking woman with deep red hair that was pulled severely back away from her alabaster face. She had probing dark eyes and looked at everyone. Skyler didn't like her on sight.

"Would someone like to tell me why the press is swarming out there like flies at a summer picnic?" she demanded and then her dark eyes fell on Skyler. "And what are you doing here, Mr. Thomas?"

"Who are you?" Skyler asked in a cold voice. He didn't like the woman, and his opinion of her was getting worse.

"My name is Jane Sprick," she said. "I work for Social Services."

"We found Ashton and called 911," he replied, but his voice didn't lose its coldness.

"Then your job is finished," she said dismissively. "You can go now."

"No, I'm afraid I can't," he said a little louder than he'd intended. "I just rescued a boy from the street that may have died if I hadn't come along. I'm invested."

"Well that's nice of you," she said just as coldly as he had. "Are you, by chance a relative of the young man?"

Skyler knew she had him there. They couldn't tell him anything because he wasn't family. With Social Services there already he could kiss his information at the hands of Dr. Hively goodbye. Once Jane Sprick had a word with him Skyler would be shut out. He sighed in defeat. He didn't care what she had to say though. He wasn't leaving the hospital at least until he found out if Ashton was all right.

"I'm not a relative," he said slowly and carefully holding his temper. "However, I'm not leaving this hospital until I know that the boy is all right."

"Well of course he isn't all right, Mr. Thomas," she said, smirking at him. "You said yourself that he was likely near death when you found him."

"Sarcasm won't get you anywhere with me," he said sharply. "As I said, I will remain here until I know his condition. I want no more information than that. I believe that in California I'm entitled to that much information when I already know he's in the hospital."

And at just that moment, Dr. Hively came back into the waiting room to tell Skyler that Ashton was being taken to surgery. He apologized and told him that he couldn't tell him more because he wasn't family and then asked to have a private word with Ms. Sprick.

Skyler and his friends left the hospital after that. They fought their way through the crowd of reporters without answering any questions. Once they were inside the SUV Skyler sighed again. He was furious with the woman from Social Services, and he planned to lodge a complaint about her conduct on Monday morning.

They were eating breakfast the next morning when the story broke on national news. Skyler watched the news report very closely as he ate. They reported that Tanya and Mitch Burke of Los Angeles were arrested in the early morning hours for Criminal Child Neglect, Criminal Child Abuse and Attempted Murder. They even had Ashton's name. He winced when they mentioned that the child was rescued by Skyler Thomas.

The phone began to ring off the hook after the news broadcast. Skyler talked to both Clay and Gavin and assured them that he hadn't talked to the press the night before. Yes, he was still planning to make his appearance on "The Simon Reckel Show" that evening, and yes he was going back to the hospital as soon as he was off the phone. Clay tried to talk him out of that, but Gavin understood why he was going. They'd mentioned his name and it would look terrible if Skyler didn't show up to check on the boy. That was why Gavin thought he was going. Skyler could've cared less about what the press would say about it either way. He was going back because he was worried about Ashton.

Jeff and Deacon went with Skyler when he gathered security and went back to the hospital. Reporters were waiting for them when they arrived, but Brent and the others got the celebrities inside the hospital with no incidents. Skyler was very thankful for that. He was met by Jane Sprick as soon as he got off the elevator on the fifth floor.

"What do you think you're doing?" she demanded, glaring at Skyler with her hands on her hips.

"Jane," said another female voice, and then an older woman came around the corner to join them. She was dressed in a charcoal suit. Her hair was short and swept back from her face. She wore very little make-up but her age was nearly impossible to guess.

"Mary," said Jane, turning to face the woman.

"I think it would be best if you went down and had a cup of coffee," said the woman, Mary. "I'll talk with Mr. Thomas about what's happening while you're gone."

"But he shouldn't be here after causing all of the press to jump on this story," she argued.

"Jane," said Mary in a no nonsense voice.

"Yes, ma'am," said Jane before glaring coldly at Skyler again. She jammed her finger at the button for the elevator.

"Mr. Thomas, please come with me," said Mary, smiling warmly at him. "If your security could wait in the waiting room, I think they might just fill it up."

"Of course," he replied, nodding to Brent before following Mary around the corner and down the hall.

"Mr. Thomas, I know that you have nothing to do with what the press does at any time," she said as they walked. "Jane is upset because they cornered her to ask about you this morning. It was rather amusing to watch."

"I'm sorry that she was hounded, but I didn't tell the press anything," he said calmly.

"I know you didn't," she said. "The paramedics talked to the press. Now, Ashton has asked for you twice this morning."

"He has?" Skyler asked. It shocked him that the boy even knew who he was. He'd been so hurt and near unconscious when Skyler had found him.

"Yes, he has," she replied, turning to smile at him. "You make a rather unique impression wherever you go. I'm sure you're aware of that."

"Yes," he admitted. "I'm just surprised that he knew who I was in the state he was in when I found him."

"Yes, there is that," she said. "Mr. Thomas, I wanted to talk to you about your schedule over the next few weeks."

"I don't understand," he said honestly.

"Well if you're going to be flying all over the country over the next few weeks, what I have planned will not be possible," she said.

"I'm not planning to leave the city any time soon," he said. "I have a reality show to film and various projects that will keep me here in LA."

"That's very good to hear," she said. "I've talked to my superiors and we've decided that if you're willing, we'd like to make you a temporary foster parent. Understand that a background check has already been done. You either have nothing to hide or it's hidden so deep that it's impossible to find."

"You want me to take Ashton home with me?" he asked.

"That's exactly what we want," she said seriously. "You have a way of dodging the press, and because of those paramedics the press now have Ashton's name and photograph. There's also the fact that he's asking for you. We're hoping that you'll bond well. I don't want to place him in the system."

He thought about it for a moment. Sure he should have discussed this with Jeff, but he was sure that if he told Mary that he was gay and that Jeff was his partner she'd change her mind about wanting him to foster Ashton. He didn't know the child, but that wasn't really an issue. He was hurt and would need time to recover without interference from the press.

"I'll do it," he said. "What do I have to do?"

"There's some paperwork," she said. "We'll need to talk to Ashton, but I'm sure he'll be happy to go home with you when the doctor releases him. As soon as the paperwork is signed you'll be told everything about his condition, care instructions and so on."

He followed her to a small conference room. It was decorated in warm colors, and Skyler was sure that this was a room that doctors took families to when their loved ones were dying. There was a folder of papers on the small table. Mary took a seat in front of them at the head of the table. Skyler walked around the table and sat at the other end.

"These are Medical Release Forms," she said, handing him a stack of papers. "What they say is that you have the right to have Ashton treated by a physician at any time he's in your custody. You'll need to carry those to the doctor only once every time you see a new doctor. They can make copies to keep on file."

"I understand," he said, signing his name at the bottom of the last sheet.

"This is the guardianship agreement," she said, taking the signed papers and handing him a new stack. "Feel free to read it through. We'll be seeing Judge Amy Dawson on Monday morning to finalize the guardianship."

"I thought I was to be his foster parent," he said, taking the agreement from her.

"You are, but guardianship will give you rights that foster parents don't have," she explained. "Mr. Thomas, we won't be checking in on you as much as we would a regular foster parent. We will check in, but it won't be as intrusive as usual. You've already been approved for adoption once, so if there was any reason to watch you closely we'd already know about it."

"I see," he said, glancing at the agreement. He signed his name on the last page and handed it back.

"That's all I have," she said. "Normally there would be a compensation form, but I don't think you really need compensation for anything you spend on Ashton."

"No," he agreed, smiling. "I think I can handle the expenses."

"Then we're all set," she said. "Let's go and talk to the doctor and you can see Ashton."

"I have one request," he said as they stood to leave the room.

"Name it," she replied.

"I never want to deal with Jane Sprick again in my life," he said, making her chuckle.

"That's not a problem," she said. "I can assure you that you'll never have to see her again after today."


The next chapter will be posted soon.


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