© 2005-2011 Julien Gregg
All Rights Reserved


Chapter 98


"I didn't think they'd let me in here to see you," Justin said as he sat at the small table in the activity room of the rehabilitation clinic at the hospital.

"Yesterday they wouldn't have," replied Chad. "I had to be here so long before I was allowed a visitor.

"What's it like in here?" Justin asked, looking around at the room. There were two tables along the far wall. One had jars of paints and the other had stacks of paper and other art supplies. The entire room was white from floor to ceiling.

"It's not so bad," Chad said after a minute. "You just go to group, talk to your clinician privately once a day and do activities. We get three meals a day and a snack and there's even movies and stuff."

"How's Aaron doing?" Justin asked. He'd thought he'd see him at the same time. He couldn't visit Aaron directly because they weren't exactly friends. They weren't enemies but they weren't friends either.

"Hangin' in, you know?" Chad said. "He's still detoxing. Whatever he was doing, he did it a lot longer than I was doing what I was doing."

"Well you look good," said Justin, smiling at him. "When do you get out?"

"I have to go to court to get out," Chad said with a sigh. "My court date is April fifteenth."

"The judge'll let you out, right?" Justin asked.

"I think so," he said. "I'll have served the court appointed time by then."

"That's not too far off," said Justin. "What'll you do until then?"

"Write," replied Chad. "I've been working on new songs. Gonna do a whole different sound though."

"What kind of sound?"

"Rock," Chad said with a shrug. "It's what I wanted to do all along, but Maverick just assumed I'd sing the same stuff as Sky."

"So you're gonna change your image then?"

"Gonna try," Chad said with the first smile Justin had seen since he'd arrived. "Have to talk it out with Sky though."

"How often does Sky come here?" Justin asked.

"He was coming every day until I asked him to cut it down," Chad said. "I'm not exactly thrilled for him to see me here, you know?"

"I get it," Justin replied.

"Well it's about time for me to do my one on one with Tony," Chad said with a sigh. "Thanks for comin' Justin. I enjoyed visiting."

"Me too," Justin said with a smile. "I'm glad you're doing better. I'll come back."

"Cool," Chad said, smiling.

Ten minutes later Chad was sitting in a small office with grey walls and a thick blue carpet on the floor. The desk took up half the room with just enough room for Tony to walk around it to the chair behind it. On the desk were pictures of Tony and his family. Two girls who looked about five and six with the same dark hair, brown eyes and tanned skin as Tony were alone in the first picture. They were in a yard with leaves all over the ground. A shaggy white dog was lying between them and both girls had a hand on the dog's back. The second picture was of Tony and his wife with the girls. They were dressed in identical white dresses with their hair in white bows. His wife was a beautiful woman, clearly Latino like himself. She had long dark hair that curled over her shoulders. Her dark eyes were shining with the smile that was on her lips. Tony stood beside her with a hand on her shoulder. Instead of looking at the camera like the others, he only had eyes for his wife. It was obvious that he loved her.

Tony Mendoza was six feet tall with a muscular body that was impossible to hide behind the dress shirts and slacks he wore to work every day. He had short dark hair that was nearly buzzed to the scalp. His dark eyes were friendly when he looked at you and he always had a smile for everyone. He was both a therapist and a drug councilor. He'd told Chad that he'd become a drug councilor because his brother had over dosed when they were in college. He'd died and there was nothing that Tony could do. This was how he coped with the loss of his brother. Chad liked Tony but the story of his brother's death hit home for him. It made him really think about the impact his own death would have had on Skyler, Jason and Cassie. It made him feel like a bigger ass than ever when he thought about it.

"Well, Word Man," Tony said with a smile when Chad sat down in the chair in front of his desk. Today he was wearing a white shirt with navy pinstripes, a maroon tie and black dress slacks. "Written any more lyrics?"

"Two more songs," Chad said, handing the notebook across the desk. It was opened to the two songs he'd written the day before. It just seemed like these songs were flowing out of him when he sat down and wrote them out. Songwriting was never so easy as it was now.

"You're really letting it out with these," Tony said as he scanned the sheets of lyrics. "I think that's great, Chad."

"It's never been so easy to write before," he said. "I just hope Skyler likes them."

"Why is it so important that Skyler like your songs?" asked Tony, putting the notebook down and looking Chad in the eye. "He's not going to sing them is he?"

"No," Chad said with a smile. "Not SKy's style. I just want my brother to be proud of me."

"But Skyler says he is proud of you," Tony said. "What makes you think that he wouldn't be proud of these songs?"

"Well he's used to the other kind of music," Chad said, picking at his shoe as he crossed his left leg over his right. "These are radically different from my other stuff."

"But you said the record company decided what you'd sing before," Tony said. "These are all yours."

"Yeah," Chad said.

"Well what happens to them if Skyler isn't proud of them?"

"What do you mean?" Chad asked, looking up at him.

"I mean if Skyler says he doesn't like these songs, what'll you do with them?"

"I don't know," sighed Chad. "I let Sky down already. I don't wanna do it again."

"All right," Tony said, passing the notebook back to him. "Let's go out on a limb here and say that Skyler will be proud of you no matter what you write or sing."

"That's what he says," Chad replied. "I know I disappointed him though."

"And it's important to you that he's proud of you," Tony pushed.

"Well, yeah," said Chad. "He got us out of the house and away from Chuck. Sky was always trying to help us and keep us safe from Chuck."

"Did you start to resent him when he went off to college?" Tony asked.

"Not really," Chad said, looking away. "I guess a little bit. I mean he left us and we were just stuck there."

"But he got you out," Tony said, watching Chad closely.

"He saved us again," Chad said. "I know he couldn't have taken us when he went to college, and he had to get away. It was always worse for Sky than it was for us. At least it was until he was gone, but we didn't tell him about that. We didn't want him to feel bad or anything, you know? We just dealt with it. Then he came back to see us and everything just came out."

"And he took you to New York to live with him," Tony said. "He got you out of the house and away from your step-father. You were safe then."

"Yeah," he said, smiling. "He took us on tour with him and every day was like an adventure. We got to see all of these cities and do all these things we'd never done before. He didn't yell at us or try to hurt us in any way. It was so great."

"Then you started singing yourself," Tony said, prompting him to move on.

"Yeah," he said, smiling wider. "Sky was so proud of the song I'd wrote."

"There you go," said Tony. "Do you think he was proud because the song was good? Or maybe was he proud because you wrote it?"

"Both, I guess," he said. "I know it wasn't his fault that they thought it was just a pop ballad."

"No," said Tony. "That wasn't Skyler's fault. But was he proud of the other songs that you sang?"

"He was," Chad said, smiling again. "He even wrote one for me."

"Okay, let me get this straight in my mind here," said Tony. "You wanted Skyler to be proud of you, and he was so proud of you that he wrote a song specifically for you to sing?"

"Yeah," he said, smiling yet again. "He went on and on about how talented I was and how it was me and him. I was happier then than I've ever been in my life."

"Then what makes you think he won't be proud of these songs?" Tony asked.

* * *

"So you went to see Chad today?" Skyler asked Justin Timberlake later that day when they were sitting in his living room.

"Yeah," Justin said with a smile. "He looks great."

"It's good that someone other than the family is going to visit," Skyler said.

"Doesn't Darby go to visit?"

"She does," Skyler said with a smile. "But she's like family. They're in love."

"That's great," Justin said. "He needs love."

"He sure does," agreed Skyler.

"Where's Jeff today?" Justin asked.

"He had an interview and a photo shoot with the boys today," replied Skyler. "He'll be home a little later."

"You doing any better with the show?" Justin asked carefully. He knew that the show was a sore subject with Skyler.

"I don't have anything to do with it anymore," Skyler said. "I'm only on camera when they film parts of rehearsal. I don't even talk to the dancers when the cameras are around."

"Do they know that you'll be in a different hotel when you're touring?" he asked.

"Yeah," sighed Skyler. "I also made sure that no cameras will be allowed on my bus or the jet."

"I heard you pretty much blew up at Clay and Gavin," Justin said. In fact everyone at Sky High had heard about it.

"Yeah," sighed Skyler. "They're still walking softly around me. It's good for them though. They were thinking that they could just do what they wanted and I would always just go along with it. They were wrong. It's important that they learn that lesson."

"Well I think you taught it to them," laughed Justin. "Congrats on the new single, by the way. That song is amazing. They still haven't shut up about it on MTV."

"Yeah," laughed Skyler. "That was pretty cool. I wrote it thinking about something Chad said to me about my not being able to save him from this. I just wanted to let him know that he can always lean on me."

"Well the song is great, and I'm sure he got the message," said Justin. "They were playing the video in the activity room while we were sitting there."

"I hope so," Skyler said. "We've been getting all kinds of calls from talk show hosts wanting me to come and perform the song, but I promised Social Services that I'd stay in LA until time to tour. I've already left the city once. I can't justify a promotional tour for the song."

"Screw 'um," laughed Justin. "Sky, you're one of the most famous people in the world. You don't have to promote that single to make it a number one. It's already breaking records."

"Thanks, Curly," Skyler said with a big smile. Then he looked at the clock and sighed. "I've gotta get over to the school. We're gonna work on my little project and then I guess I'll check in with the dancers."

"No filming tonight?" asked Justin.

"None that I'm aware of," said Skyler. "They're probably filming at random now that the competition is over but I don't have to worry about that. Jeff won't be with me."

"Well don't let me keep you," said Justin. "I'll hang out with Jason or call Darren and find out what he's up to."

"Have fun," Skyler said as he stood and left the room.

Skyler was pleasantly surprised to find that Brett and Dave were already at the school and they seemed to be getting along with Landon famously. They were laughing and joking with each other when he arrived and then they were all happy to see him. They looked good together, and that was part of what Skyler was looking for. Landon's clean cut, suburban look with his sandy brown waves and those adorable blue-grey eyes went really well with Brett's dark buzz cut and the devil may care look in his brown eyes. They both looked like high school students though Landon was almost twenty and Brett had recently turned twenty-four. Dave rounded them out with a more rugged look. His chestnut hair was constantly wind blown and his green eyes were ever watchful. Brett was the tallest of the bunch at six feet even. Dave was just a few inches shorter than Brett with Landon a head shorter than Brett. They really looked good together. Skyler just hoped they sounded good together. If they did then he had his trio.

"Hey, Sky!" cried Landon as he got up and came running across the room to stand in front of him. "I finished the lyrics. Brett helped me out a lot. Then we went through it the way you said and it sounded pretty good. Dave had a few ideas on how to make it sound better so we tried that. It was great!"

"Well, do you think you're up to singing it for me?" Skyler asked. "The booth is empty."

"Sure," Landon said with a grin. "Lemme just ask the guys."

Skyler liked the way he referred to them as "the guys". It showed that he liked them which was extremely important. They needed to like watch other if they were going to spend tours riding, playing and sleeping on busses together. It just wouldn't do if they couldn't get along. Life on the bus was hell enough without having to sit with your enemy. That also made a huge impact on the sound of a group's singing. If the members of the group were friendly with each other they tended to compliment each other better in the booth. He still hadn't told them that he was hoping to set them up as a group. From the looks of things he thought they'd be pretty open to the idea.

"Let's do it," Brett said when Landon asked them. "Hey Skyler!"

"How's it goin', Bret?" Skyler asked. "I haven't seen you in a while."

"Yeah, works been kinda slow," he said. "Good thing this guy needed backup."

"Let's get you guys in there so I can hear this," he said, smiling at him.

The three moved into the sound booth and put on their headphones. Skyler noticed that song was already set up so he knew that they'd been practicing. He thought he might move Brett and Dave into the school to be close to Landon while they worked on the album. He also hoped that Landon was still writing. He wasn't too worried about it though. They had a couple of really good songwriters on staff that would be perfect for these boys if they sounded as good as Skyler was hoping.

"Ready?" he asked them, pushing the button on the sound board so they could hear him through their headphones.

"Yeah, man," Landon said with a grin. His excitement was refreshing. "Flip the switch!"

"We're ready," Brett said, winking at Skyler.

"All right then," Skyler said, turning on the tape of the music and sitting back to listen.

The beat began and the music was as good as he remembered. Landon was sure talented with his computer. They'd gotten it all transcribed but Skyler was starting to think that the computer music was better than the band he'd put together to play the song.

"Are you ready?" Brett asked into his mic.

"Let's go!" replied Dave.

"See I've been waitin' for oh so long, hopin' and prayin' that one day I'm gonna make it! No matter what I keep comin' strong. I got my eye on the prize and I'm gonna take it," sang Landon and Skyler smiled. They sounded awesome together.

"We're on our way," Brett said into his mic.

"I never realized how fortunate we are to be here today. Up on a stage, the lights are on so let's get it started, started, started," sang Landon.

"I'm here!" cried Dave.

"Got my adrenaline pumpin'. I wanna be in the lights camera action," sang Landon.

"Lights camera action," sang Brett.

"Lights camera action," sang Dave.

"The crowd is screamin' and jumpin'. They wanna be in the lights camera action," sang Landon.

"Lights camera action," sang Brett.

"Lights camera action," sang Dave.

Skyler was thrilled to death as he listened to them sing. They sounded as if they'd been singing together for years. He couldn't wait to get this single recorded at the studio and get it out there. He was sure they'd take off like lightning once everyone heard them. Of course he also knew that with his name attached to it as the producer it would move a lot faster. That was part of why he wanted to produce it. He wanted them to be successful. It sounded like they would be.

When they were finished singing Skyler praised them. They were slapping each other on the back and congratulating each other. He watched them for a few minutes and then decided it was time to talk business. The song had been amazing and if that was any indication, which he was sure it was, then they would be one of the hottest male vocal groups very soon. He just had to give them a few gentle pushes. Brett and Dave were used to being backup singers, not full members of a vocal group. He thought he might have to do some heavy duty convincing when he told them what he had in mind.

"It was absolutely awesome, guys," he said when they'd stopped hooting and hollering. "I want to sit down and chat with you guys for a bit, then I'll call the office and see about getting you into the studio to record."

"You really think it's that good?" Landon asked, grinning from ear to ear as Brett patted him on the back.

"I really think it's that good," Skyler said with a chuckle. "Come on over here and sit down. Let's talk."

"You want Brett and Dave to sing backup on it right?" Landon said. "I mean they make the song great. By myself it's only good, you know?"

"Give me time to talk," laughed Skyler.

"Sorry," he said, grinning again.

"I want Brett and Dave to do so much more than sing backup, Landon," he said. "I want the three of you to become a vocal group, all three full members in the group."

"You mean a steady gig?" laughed Brett. "Finally!"

"Do you feel the same way, Dave?" he asked, looking from Brett's excited face to Dave, who had so far remained silent and patient.

"It'll be great to have a steady job," he said. "Do you really think we'll be a good group?"

"I think you're perfect together," Skyler said. "Landon's right, with him alone the song is good. You two with him make it great. I know the three of you will go far."

"Then I'm in," said Dave. "I can't believe this."

"Okay, now I need you guys to listen," he said. "I'm going to have you record that song here at Sky High Los Angeles. I'm going to produce it and then I'm going to get you three to Orlando where you'll be working with a regular agent and manager from Sky High Orlando."

"Why move us?" Dave asked. "We're all Californians."

"Because what I want for you is better in Orlando than it is here in LA," he explained. "You'll have more success coming out of Orlando. Think about it, Backstreet, Nsync, Hi Five, all of the groups come from Orlando. What do you hear about most in LA? Single singers and actors. This is the place to come and make it big on your own. Orlando is where to go if you want to be a group."

"Where would we live in Orlando?" Brett asked.

"Sky High owns apartment buildings in Orlando," Skyler said quickly. "We'd set you up in one, or we'd put you each in your own if that's what you want. You three are going to be spending a lot of time together, and soon you'll be buying your own houses where you choose. Trust me, guys, Orlando will make that happen. That's where you need to be."

"Well then I guess all that's left to say is when do we leave?" Landon asked with a big grin.

"That's what I like to hear," Skyler said, smiling back at him. "But really I need this to be what the three of you want. I can't send just two. Having a bi-coastal trio isn't going to work. You're all three going to have to be together to work with the vocal coaches, the choreographers and the image consultants. It can't be done apart, guys."

"There's nothing exactly holding me in LA," said Brett. "And I am originally from Orlando."

"I didn't know you were from Orlando," Dave said, looking at Brett.

"Well I don't remember living there, obviously," he laughed. "We moved to LA when I was three."

"But are you willing to return to Orlando?" Skyler asked. He couldn't stress enough how important it was that they leave for Orlando soon.

"Sure," he replied. "If it means I can sing with these two then hell yeah."

"Dave?" Skyler asked.

"Oh hell," he said. "I'll go anywhere you point, Sky."

"Great!" Skyler said happily. "Now I just have to get you studio time. Being a majority owner I'm sure I can do that." He let them laugh at that statement for a few seconds. "All right then. I'm going to head over to the other side of the school and check in with my dancers. Dave and Brett if you need a ride home just wait for me. I shouldn't be too long. God knows I hate the show."

He found Evan and Alex sitting together in the lounge when he got to the other side of the school. They smiled and waved at him as he walked by. There were quite a few of the others practicing the dance moves that James had taught them. Brody's dancers were on the second floor and were no longer housed with his dancers. This was something that Skyler thought was a mistake. After all they'd all be together on the tour. But then James had explained that with rehearsals and practicing it was better to keep them apart so they didn't get confused. Skyler thought about for a while after that discussion with James and decided he was probably right.

The fact that his entire dancer line up was now staying at the school hadn't escaped him either. Some of these guys lived in LA so he didn't understand why they were living there, but he suspected that they loved being on camera. If that was the case then they'd sure enjoy this tour. He was still pissed off about the cameras but he and Jeff had already called every city on the tour to book alternate hotels. The news that Skyler wouldn't be with them in the hotel had rocked the dancers but they got over it pretty quickly. He was sure that they thought his being in a different hotel gave them extra freedom to do what they wanted. They were in for a shock though. James had a staff of his own to look after them and had promised to keep them in line while they were traveling. This was a fact that none of them had bothered to share with the dancers though. Skyler couldn't wait to hear what they'd have to say when they heard.

There were cameras everywhere as was usual at the school and he did his best to ignore them. Every time he came to the school he was mad at Clay and Gavin all over again. It was probably a good thing that they were still avoiding him most of the time. He wasn't sure he could keep from screaming at them if they showed up at the school and then it would no doubt end up on camera for the world to see and speculate about. That was what pissed him off the most. He just kept thinking about that separate hotel and the fact that no cameras were allowed on his bus or jet to keep himself calm. Clay had only tried to object to the no bus and no jet rule once. Skyler had tore into him over it as soon as the objected left his lips and that had been the end of it. Nothing like this would ever be allowed to happen again. He would make sure of it.

James was in his office when Skyler got there and the choreographer smiled when he stepped inside the small room. Skyler really liked James and sitting in his office was always safe because James wouldn't allow the cameras in his office either.

"What brings you to the school?" James asked as Skyler sat down in the chair in front of his desk.

"I had to meet with the guys on the other side," he explained. "Then I thought I'd check in. How goes things?"

"Oh, fine," he said, waving his hand in front of his chest. "I will say one thing though. Your dancers are going to be sick of the routines by the time we tour. Rehearsals never start this early."

"Another thing to hang around Gavin's neck," sighed Skyler. "I tried to explain that to him but he just kept saying it would all work out."

"He's singing a different tune now," laughed James. "He calls ahead to make sure you're not here before he comes to talk to me now."

"Coward," Skyler sighed.

"I trust you called all of the cities and booked your hotels," said James, smiling at him.

"Yes," he said. "And Clay and Gavin have been excluded from the list of people allowed on the floors of each hotel."

"You're evil," laughed James.

"They have to learn," he replied. "How are they all dealing with the knowledge that Alex is a member of my family?"

"Oh they're all fine with it," he said, waving his hand again. "Jason pretty much took care of any animosity on that end."

"I figured he'd have something to say if they got loud about it," Skyler chuckled. "My kid brother is a pit bull at times."

"He gets it from you, I think," James replied.

"Possibly," conceded Skyler. "Where is Jason anyway? I thought he was hanging out here today."

"He left an hour ago to visit Chad," explained James.

"Well then I guess I'll head on home," said Skyler. "Jeff'll be there soon."

"There is one thing I think you should know about," James said before Skyler could get up from the chair. "Gavin was here this morning to tell me that you'd probably be recording one or more new songs for your uncle's upcoming movie. He seems to think you'll add something to the song line up."

"Damn him to hell," sighed Skyler. "We agreed that the song list was final already. Yes, I may record a song for the movie, but you can rest assured that I won't be adding anything to the song list."

"I didn't think you would," he said. "Just wanted to let you know what Gavin was saying. He's not allowed upstairs anymore. Did you know?"

"No I didn't," Skyler said. "What happened?"

"Brody told Mara that he'd be in your hotel and bus on the tour," he said with a smile. "Seems she took offence to his not being with his dancers. Gavin told her that it was your fault and she laid into him and then banned him from 'her floor'."

"Serves him right," laughed Skyler. "He can blame me for anything he likes. Mara knows the truth. I'll have words for him about it though. If I ever see him again."

"He doesn't come to the status meetings for the company?" James asked.

"We haven't had a meeting since I blew up at them," Skyler replied, smiling. "I'm going to call one soon though. It's time for them to face me."

"Do me a favor and let me know if I'm about to step on your toes," laughed James. "I like my balls the way they are. I don't want them roasted."

"I'll remember that," laughed Skyler.

"All right," said James, waving at him. "Get out of here and go play house."

"I'm goin'," Skyler said as he got up from the chair. "If you hear any more from Gavin let me know."

"Will do," said James. "Kiss the kids for me."

"Sure thing," said Skyler and then he left the office.

Jeff was in the playroom with the kids when he got home. Instead of going straight up to join him he went into the office and called Gavin's cell. He got his voicemail which he fully expected and left a message that he was calling a staff meeting in his office at Sky High LA for ten the next morning. Then he left the same message on Clay's voicemail. He called Dianne and told her and then called Andrew to tell him as well. Then he called the office to book studio time for Landon, Dave and Brett. With that taken care of he went up the stairs to play with his lover and their children.

"Hey, Blondie," Jeff said, smiling at him as he came into the room.

"Hey, Blue Eyes," Skyler said, leaning down to kiss him before settling on the floor beside him.

"Where've you been?" Jeff asked.

"I went to the school to meet with Landon, Dave and Brett and then have a chat with James," he said. "The boys have all agreed to move to Orlando, and I got to hear their finished version of the song today. I booked studio time for them tomorrow."

"Cool," said Jeff. "Can I come listen?"

"Of course you can," laughed Skyler. "I'll be heading over early though. I called a staff meeting for ten, and I'm holding it in my office."

"Wow," Jeff said. "Have you even been in the office since we've been home?"

"Twice," Skyler replied, smiling. "It's time to get Gavin and Clay back to work. They avoid me like the plague."

"Are you gonna yell at them again?" asked Jeff as JR crawled all over him.

"I'm not planning to," Skyler replied.

"But you never know," laughed Jeff.

"I guess it all depends on what other surprises they want to throw at me," he said. "Gavin told James that I'm probably going to record one or more songs for Jase's new movie and I'll probably change the song line up for the tour."

"You wouldn't do that," Jeff said.

"No, and Gavin should know that," said Skyler. "He's just being an ass, and it's going to stop or I'll fire him."

"You'd fire him from Sky High for telling tales to James?" Jeff asked, turning to look at him.

"No," laughed Skyler. "I'd fire him as my agent."

"Oh," Jeff said and turned back to watching Alyssa and Ashton color.

"We should get the kids ready for dinner," Skyler said, looking at his watch.

"Yeah," said Jeff. "Oh, Jase said he wanted to talk to you about something earlier. I told him I'd give you the message."

"I'm not filming another movie," laughed Skyler.

"I don't think that's what he wants," Jeff said. "He said it was personal."

"Oh," Skyler said, stumped. "Well I'll see him at dinner I guess."

They watched as Ashton and Alyssa picked up all of the art supplies. Skyler helped Preston put away his toys and then he took him into the master bathroom to wash his hands while Ashton and Alyssa went to their own bathrooms to wash theirs. Then they headed down the stairs. Jase and Mike were just coming in from the back yard. Darby took JR from Jeff and headed for the dining room, telling them that dinner was nearly ready.

"There you are," Jase said when he saw Skyler. "I need to talk to you about something."

"Is it private?" Skyler asked as he made it to the bottom of the stairs with Preston on his hip.

"No," said Jase. "I've been discussing it with Mike outside. He needed to be the first to hear what I have to say as it affects him a bit more than the rest of you."

"All right," Skyler said, interested now. "We'll talk in the dining room then."

They filed into the dining room and took their seats. Darby came into the room with JR on her hip and put him in his high chair while Skyler put Preston in his. She asked Jeff to help her carry the dishes to the table and Skyler sat down across from his uncle with his son at his side so that he could help him eat. When the food was on the table Skyler was impressed. Darby had outdone herself in the kitchen. She'd brought broiled pork loin with honey and almond glaze to the table along with crispy oven baked potatoes, honey glazed carrots and fresh baked crusty bread.

"It looks and smells amazing," he told her as she sat down.

"I've got the kids' meals," said Jeff as he came in with two plates of what looked like fish sticks with steak fries and tarter sauce. There were juice boxes for each of the children as well.

"I'll grab the other two," said Jase, standing. "You sit."

"Thanks," Jeff said with a smile as Jason came in from the hall.

"Hey everyone," he said as he took his seat next to the one Jase had vacated. "Mom and Dad are with Chad."

"Is he in a better mood than he was in this morning?" Skyler asked, thinking of how down Chad had been when he'd visited.

"Yeah," Jason said with a smile. "He said his session with Tony cheered him right up. He told me they talked about you mostly."

"Me?" Skyler asked. "I hate to think he was so down because of something I did or said."

"I don't think that's it," Jason said. "He wants you to come see him tomorrow though. He said he has something to talk to you about."

"All right," Skyler said. "I'll be in the studio with Landon and the boys for a while tomorrow, and I called a staff meeting for ten in the morning. After I leave the boys I'll head over to the hospital."

"Sounds good," said Jason. "So what's the verdict on Landon and all of that?"

"They sang the song for me today with music," Skyler said. "It was awesome. I convinced them to move to Orlando and become a group."

"Outstanding," Jason replied, grinning. "Good going."

"Yeah, I was hopeful that they'd sound good, but I wasn't expecting them to sound as good as they did," he said.

"Some surprises are good," Jeff said.

"All right then," said Jase as he came in with the other two plates of fish sticks and sat them before Ashton and Alyssa. He took his seat and smiled. "First of all I want to tell you all that Ali and I are in love."

"Congrats!" Skyler said happily. His uncle deserved some happiness after all of his heartache.

"Thank you," he said, smiling again. "I wanted to ask you and Jeff what you thought about Ali moving in here, with me."

Skyler and Jeff looked at each other and smiled. They both liked Ali Larter. Having her around when Skyler was filming with Jase had been a ball. They were both sure that having her move into the house would be a great thing and nodded at each other.

"When is she moving in?" Skyler asked his uncle.

"So you mean she can?" Jase asked, looking like he wanted to be excited but was afraid to be.

"Yes, of course she can," said Skyler. "Any woman that makes you this happy is one of my favorite women in the world, Jase. You deserve some happiness, man."

"Thanks, Sky," said Jase with a warm smile on his face. "That means a lot to me."

"You know you're welcome, Jase," Skyler said, smiling back. "When do you want to get started on moving her in?"

"Well I start filming in a few days," said Jase. "If it's all right with you guys she'll start moving in while I'm on the set."

"Sounds good," replied Skyler. "If she needs any help, tell her not to hesitate to ask any of us."

"Thanks," he said.

The next day Skyler was in his office at the Sky High LA building when Clay and Gavin walked in together. They sat in the chairs directly in front of Skyler's six foot wide dark Mahogany desk without saying anything. Andrew and Dianne arrived a few minutes before ten. Dianne sat a box of pastries on the desk and a carton with five cups of coffee beside it. Skyler waited while everyone accepted a cup of coffee before saying anything.

"It's time to get a few things straightened out," he said. "First of all I don't appreciate my agent telling my choreographer that I'm intending to change the song list for the tour before he talks to me about it. Gavin, that was just wrong of you. You know that the song list is final and will remain unchanged. James has already taught us all the routines for each song in the show. Why would you do something like this?"

"I apologize," he said after a moment of tense silence. "I wasn't thinking."

"Well please think in the future," said Skyler. "Now we will discuss the tour itself. I've already called each city to book alternate hotels for my family, and no, I won't tell you which hotels. You'll have that information when we reach each city. I also required that each of the cameramen sign a contract clearly stating that they are not allowed to film on my bus or in any hotel that I or my family is staying in. My children are not to be filmed for any reason at any time, and they will respect my decision when I say the cameras have to be turned off.

"I know that this was your idea, Gavin, and I'll even concede that it's working out very well," he continued. "However, I will never consent to anything like this again. All decisions about my career, tours, marketing and personal appearances will only be decided after I have been consulted from now on. I won't stand for anyone booking events or hiring staff to film or record me without my knowledge and consent. Is that clear?"

"Crystal," said Gavin as he picked apart the puffed pastry in his hands.

"Good," said Skyler. "I assure you that the next person who does anything without my consent that involves me or any member of my family will no longer work for me or Sky High Entertainment."

"Understood," said Gavin softly.

'Now, I'd like to know what's happening with Deacon's record," he said to Clay. "Have you spoken to Eddie?"

"Deacon is still recording," said Clay in a tight voice. "There have been a few scheduling difficulties with a few musicians and two producers. That's holding things up a bit, but he's still on schedule."

"That's good," sighed Skyler. "I should tell you that at noon today Landon Fox, Brett Shay and Dave Keller will be here to record the single that Landon wrote. They've each agreed to move to Orlando and work together as a vocal group, so I'll need you to start setting things in motion on that front. I still plan to keep them here long enough to produce this single and announce them to the world. I'm fairly certain that 'Reality' will want to run a story about them once that's done. You can call Jackie and ask her about it later."

"I'll take care of all of that," Clay said. He still hadn't looked Skyler in the eye though.

"Now I'll let you all know that I've hired Bruce Beckham to head the construction crew for my tour," he said. "Bruce will be contacting you with a list of the men he's hired. Dianne, I'll need you to get however many copies of the confidentiality agreement printed when he submits that list to Clay. He'll also be getting together with James pretty soon to take a look at the sketches for the sets and make any adjustments that are needed. He'll need a new contract drawn up. I want the standard department head contract for Bruce. My father is still contracted through this company and will be heading off with Jackson in a few months to be the head of the construction crew for his tour."

"That will all be taken care of as well," Clay said.

"All right," sighed Skyler. He was tired of Clay not looking him in the eye, but there wasn't anything he could do about it at that point. "What's happening in other departments? I haven't heard anything out of the literary departments or Athletics. Are there any new novels or athletes that I should know about?"

"There are several new novels currently in production at the publishing house," Clay said, consulting the folder he'd brought with him. "I have a list of both titles and the authors of each. I also have a list of all of the athletes that have signed contracts in the last month. There are twelve."

"Good," he said when Clay placed the lists on his desk. "Bruce has finished his construction at the school, so the athletic center is ready for them. I don't pretend to know what their training will consist of, so I'll leave that to Brandon."

Brandon Ray was the head of the Athletic Department of Sky High. He employed nearly a hundred different coaches for various different sporting events. He'd also procured a football stadium that could be used for baseball as well as soccer. The ice rink had been built while Skyler and Jeff were still in Sydney and it was huge. Skyler was very happy with what he'd seen when Brandon had driven him around to show him everything. The gym they'd been using had been a rental and not up to Sky High standards. Bruce had promised to construct an athletic center that would be state of the art and more than sufficient. Skyler was pleased with what he'd seen. Jeff had played football so he knew what to look for in the center and had told Skyler it was amazing.

"I have no new contracts for you to look at," Gavin said after a few minutes of silence. "Everyone is with their respective agents and managers, and I'm sure that your vocal group will do just fine with you until the Orlando arrangements are made."

"Very well," Skyler said with another sigh. "Then I guess we're done here."

Things began to happen very fast after that meeting. Skyler was given copies of twelve new athletic contracts as well as all of the information on the arrangements Gavin had made for Landon, Brett and Dave. The single was recorded without any problems and Skyler saw the three of them off at the airport. He left them in Gavin's care. Gavin would get them set up in their apartments in Orlando and introduce them to their new agent and manager before he returned to LA. Skyler had decided that he'd travel to Orlando when the group was announced.

Jase started shooting his movie, and Ali moved in three days after Skyler had sent the boys to Orlando. There was a hectic day as moving men moved Ali's furniture and boxes into the house. Skyler dealt with it by taking Jeff and all of the children to the school where he locked the doors of the gymnasium and let the kids play while he and Jeff sat on the floor in the middle of them. They talked about what he'd told Gavin and Clay about the contracts he'd gotten the camera staff to sign.

One week later he was before Judge Amy Dawson once again. Mary was there as well, and Skyler was happy when the judge awarded him custody of Ashton and informed him that the process of adoption had now begun and she would be sending someone to observe them within a few weeks. Skyler and Jeff celebrated with the kids at home that night and bought each of them new toys and clothes. Ashton was happy with the decision and began to call both Skyler and Jeff "dad".

Two days later he was sitting in the audience at the Staples Center in Los Angeles for the Grammy's. By the time he left the arena that night he'd presented the award for Best New Artist to Brody, accepted the awards for Album of the Year for "Dangerous Emotions", Song of the Year for "So Close" and Best Pop Vocal Performance Male and Best Dance Recording for "Let Yourself Go". He was one of the last performers of the night and Alex and Evan joined him on the stage to perform "I Want You" complete with the harnesses, lights and all of the smoke. The crowd screamed at them and they received a standing ovation. Skyler was happy when he got home that night after stopping in a three of the after parties.

Six days later he was in Orlando and reunited with Landon, Brett and Dave who were now known as the vocal group, The Hardy Boys. He officially announced them along with the single "Lights Camera Action" at the Tobias Clemmons Center. They'd set up a meet 'n greet, a press conference and the song was playing over the speakers in the banquette hall as the guys signed autographs and posed for pictures. Skyler hid out in another part of the hall when the press filed into the banquette hall to ask their questions. He left the guys in the capable hands of Dean Winfield and Sam Decand, their agent and manager. He was sitting with Jeff in their living room back in Los Angeles five days after he'd returned from Orlando, looking at the "Reality Magazine" spread on The Hardy Boys. He was proud of himself for putting them together.

Then he was at the premiere for Out Of Hand in New York with Ali and Jase. They sat with Christian, Chip and Justin to watch their handy work. The film was awesome as far as Skyler was concerned and he loved it when Justin and Christian started to sing along when his character performed live at Madison Square Garden. When the movie was over the audience rose to their feet to give it a standing ovation. Skyler and Jase beamed at each other. The movie appeared to be a hit.

Christian, Chip and Justin flew back to LA with them and spent the week with Skyler and Jeff. Both Christian and Chip went to visit Chad three different times while they were there. Justin Timberlake was still visiting Chad just about every day. Skyler wondered how he fit all of those visits in with his rehearsals for his upcoming tour. Chip sat in on a few dance rehearsals for Skyler's upcoming tour, and Justy got on famously with Ashton and talked their heads off about how talented Ashton was with paints. That fact hadn't escaped Skyler and Jeff. Skyler was only waiting for the judge to say the boy was his and then he'd start finding people to tutor Ashton in the arts and really help him reach his potential.

Chip fussed about Justy's tux and made a small scene at the house about how much he hadn't wanted Justy involved in show business while they all got ready to leave for The Oscars on the twenty-fourth. Chip was still making noise about the fact that Justy would perform the song he'd recorded for the movie that night in front of the audience. Skyler smiled at Christian and let Chip ramble on. Justy couldn't stop smiling the entire time they were in the convoy of SUVs.

He sat between Chip and Jeff with Christian on Chip's other side as they watched Justy standing in the center of the stage in his black tux. He sang his little heart out as the audience ate it up. The song was so powerful that everyone was on their feet, cheering before he'd reached the final words of the song. He grinned from ear to ear at them all as they cheered for him, bowing finally just before the announcers took over once again. Skyler got up and made his way down the isle to get backstage so he could get ready for his own performance. He'd promised to look after Justy while he was back stage.

"Sky!" cried Justy when Skyler got to the dressing room he was sharing with him. "Did you hear them scream? It was so awesome!"

"I heard, Kid," laughed Skyler. "I was in the sea of screamers while they screamed for you."

"Thanks for letting me watch you from back here," he said when the make up artist was finished with him and they'd knocked on his door to tell him he had five minutes.

"No problem," Skyler replied as he took Justy's hand and headed off to his designated place on the stage. "You stay here," he said, handing his two Oscars over to him when they'd reached the edge of the stage where Justy could stand in the shadows with Brent and still see Skyler.

Skyler left him in Brent's care as he went to stand in front of the microphone stand in the dark. He hoped that Justy could see him clearly when they turned the spotlight on him. He was sure Chip was thrilled now that Justy's performance was over, but then they'd really loved it so he supposed he might not be thrilled at all. Whether Chip liked it or not though, Justy was a star. He was thinking about that as Whoopi walked to the center of the stage to announce him.

"Tonight has been a night of many stars!" Whoopi cried out to the audience, and they screamed back at her. "This next young man was awarded Best Music, Original Song for the song he's about to sing for us tonight." The crowd screamed louder at this. Skyler had accepted the award just a little while before Justy had performed. They knew what he was going to sing now. "Here he is with 'So Close' from the Sky High and Disney film, Peter Pan. Here's Skyler Thomas."

The spotlight hit him as the orchestra began to play. Skyler put out his right arm with his palm up and began to sing, "You're in my arms and all the world is calm. The music playing on for only two. So close together, and when I'm with you so close to feeling alive."

Couples in ball gowns and vintage tuxes waltzed onto the stage, staying far enough from him so that the audience never lost sight of him. He went on singing.

"A life goes by, romantic dreams will stop. So I bid mine goodbye and never knew so close was waiting, waiting here with you. All that I wanted to hold you . . . So Close.

"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," he sang and let the music play as the couples continued to waltz around the stage under spotlights of their own. He listened for the music to change again and when it did he put his hand back out with his palm up.

"How could I face the faceless day if I should lose you now? We're so close to reaching that famous happy end. And almost believing this was not pretend. So Close . . . So Close and still . . . so far," he sang as the lights went out and the crowd screamed for him.


"Lights Camera Action" is a song by V Factory. "So Close" is a song by Jon Mclaughlin.
The next chapter will be posted soon.


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