denyce: (CW RPS: TRoM Chad)
[personal profile] denyce


part 1

*~*~*~*

The days following his most recent and this time secretive fuck up had passed by in a blur. He offered a small thanks to the gods that when he returned to work, his remaining scenes with Hilarie were limited, with Peyton sleeping, or unconscious before Hilarie left for California two weeks later. Though she had tried to talk to him, he blatantly avoided any of her attempts that weren’t work related. He had easily slipped into the same professional mode just as he had when things had blown up with Sophia, but it didn’t work—this time everything was worse.

Once Hilarie left, his mood darkened even further. Unable to stop himself, he continued to withdraw, enough so that Kenzie started to hover and worry; he found himself at work just to escape her questions. While there, on set, he did the same, except this time it was escaping from his cast members. Whenever he had free time he’d go shoot hoops, ignoring everyone-anyone who wanted or tried to talk to him. He tried to keep things low-key, enough to where he held his emotions in check, but everyone on set had known him too long, had seen and experienced his usual habits of avoidance whenever he was troubled. If he didn’t get his shit together, he knew someone, mostly likely Kenzie, would call his brother, or worse, Jared.

And things did get worse. Weeks after Hilarie left, he had a string of her voice messages. He should have listened to her messages when he first got them.

Once Ian filed for legal separation, the news about their separation was leaked to the tabloids. Not so ironically, it also marked the first rumors about Hilarie’s infidelity that at some point were linked to him, from insider sources.

It didn’t help matters that unless they had a scene, or a script between them, Hilarie was on one side of the studio and he was on the opposite. Whether Hilarie was there or not, he could feel the blatant stares from both cast and crew. He could feel their suspicion and questions he wouldn’t let them ask. But if the tension at work had increased, it was nothing compared to what it was like at home.

Out of guilt and remorse he had stopped sharing their bedroom. Had all but stopped even speaking to Kenzie. He just couldn’t find the words to tell her the whole truth. Not just that he had fucked up and cheated on her. Surprisingly that wasn’t the main problem; it was deeper than that, but at the same time it was one of those slippery slopes. He knew instinctively that if he told Kenzie about Hilarie, that the rest would come out, and that he wasn’t ready to deal with. It’d be confronting what he had said while Hilarie fucked him, what he had unconsciously revealed about himself that had him running scared, not from the press, cast and crew of his show, or even Kenzie, but rather from the truth— about himself.

The tension around the set was excruciating and he dreaded going home even more. Feeling like a coward, he waited and hung out on the set until they kicked him out to close down the studio, leaving him no place to go but home. It had been late; his game plan was unsurprisingly to make a hasty exit to the guest room. It was almost one when he pulled up; the lights were low, and he actually had high hopes that Kenzie had gone to bed. Quietly he opened the door. No sooner had he gotten in the door, the lights came on. Where he discovered there was someone a hellofalot worse than dealing with Jared or Rex. That Kenzie had called his mother, Sharon.

From there things just went to hell.

To say his relationship with his mother was volatile would’ve been an understatement. Though she was sober now, but for most of his childhood she was an alcoholic. Those memories tainted their relationship, the emotional impact when she had abandoned the family – and him, twice, didn’t help. She represented everything he fought to forget about his early years.

Facing his mother now, after everything that had happened with Hilarie, when he was already tired, emotionally worn, hanging by a thread, added weight to memories he usually kept buried, surfacing through the cracks.

He saw his mother there, coming over to hug him. She was edging him toward Kenzie, he suspected that she was about to play mediator. Pulling his hand away from Sharon, he found his voice.

“Don’t!” Even to his own ears, he sounded curt and harsh. Years of anger bubbled forth toward Sharon with emotions he never allowed himself to show. Turning to face Kenzie, his anger dissipated and his heart broke. Hilarie was right; she deserved better, someone who’d really be there for her. Not someone like him who was too fucked up, who couldn’t even face who he was, someone who continually hurt everyone around him.

His throat swelled with regret. “I’m sorry. I…” Instantly he was reminded of Sophia, of how angry and shattered she was from his betrayal. Kenzie’s blue eyes widened, glistening with unshed tears. Normally a beautiful face, it was now etched in pain, pain he was causing her. She shook her head as if that’d stop him from saying anything else, to deny the truth she had to be seeing in his eyes, for him to not say it, to pretend. If he had started this yesterday when Sharon wasn’t here, if he had said something, maybe it could have been different. It didn’t matter now, not with Sharon here. Having Sharon here to witness this, tore at him, but it also strengthened him to know that he couldn’t add this to everything else he already kept buried and continued to deny. Kenzie silently pleaded, he wanted to look away, instead he continued to face her, painfully aware that he sadistically deserved the penance of pain that he was causing. Resigned, he swallowed, then blurted the truth. “The rumors… they’re true. I did it. I fucked up. I cheated on you.”

He could see it in her eyes; even now she’d forgive him if he allowed it. This time he did look away, shaking his head, no, then reached down to twist off his ring. Choked with emotion, he reached out to grab her hand, placing the ring in the palm of her hand, and cupped her fingers around it before dropping his hand. “I’m sorry.”

Even with only a brief touch he felt her tremble beneath his fingers, her whispered words. “We can…”

He cut her off, his voice grave full of sadness. “No. We can’t.”

“Hilarie, you love her?” Questionable disbelief dripped heavily in every word.

Though he wasn’t ready to reveal everything, she deserved a kernel of truth. “No, not like that, but we… I did.”

She quickly took hold of that thread. “Then we can work…”

He found himself repeating his words, “No! No we can’t. It’s not Hilarie, we did, but it’s someone else. I’m in love with someone else. I’m sorry, I honestly don’t want to hurt you…”

She swallowed hard, tears falling as she demanded, “Who? Sophia?” Sadly, and almost hesitantly, he shook his head, because he had never stopped being in love with Jared, even when he had been with Sophia. And he was here again, just repeating this sick cycle because he couldn’t face the truth about himself. “No.”

A resounding slap echoed in his ear followed by burning heat throbbing against his cheek, as she desperately demanded, “Who?”

Jared’s name danced on the tip of his tongue. It was at that moment Sharon awkwardly tried to interject some unwanted motherly advice. “Maybe if you go to counseling, try to work through this…”

Suddenly he wanted to laugh. Martial advice coming from her was rich, but it did give him some fortitude, to give Kenzie tangible truth, that they couldn’t be saved, that she deserved to know. To know what he didn’t couldn’t tell Sophia, to move on.

“A man, I’m in love with a man.”

He heard Sharon’s sharp grasp. Ignoring her, he quietly added to Kenzie, “It’s true. I’ve been in the closet all my life, with Sophia, with you… I can’t do it anymore.”

He stood there almost paralyzed under Kenzie’s questioning glare, allowing her to see the truth of his words. He could almost see her shut down, her face crumbling once she realized he wouldn’t retract or deny what he just said.

Suddenly Sharon was there, holding Kenzie as her body shook, tears falling more rapidly as she physically collapsed in Sharon’s arms.

Helpless, he just stood there watching until his mother shooed him away. Feeling sick and cowardly, he left.

He barely remembered driving downtown, checking into a hotel and ordering a bottle of Jack be sent to his room.

By checking into a hotel here in Wilmington, he automatically flagged every tidbit gossiper who’d tip off TMZ, or any other paparazzi rag. Here everyone already knew who the hell he was, and checking in by himself, combined with the rumors that were already flying, when his manager found out, she was going to kill him. Making a beeline to the bar, he twisted open a small bottle of Jack then took a healthy swallow. He took another as he realized he had just ended his engagement, tipped off the rags, came out of the closet to Kenzie and his mother, and then left Sharon in his house comforting his ex-fiancée. His life was fucked!

By the time room service arrived he had already downed two small bottles from the bar. Normally Chad wasn’t a drinker, nor would he ever drink alone. Instead, he’d normally nurse a few beers, just enough to get a slight buzz here and there, but he had always stayed away from hard liquor. Liquor gave him too many memories of his mother; the smell alone would normally gag him, but now he desperately wanted to stop thinking- to stop feeling.

With each burning swallow, memories surfaced, visceral, sharp. His head pounded, as he saw Sophia, her voice raw, yelling and cursing as he ducked every time she threw something. Her face was stained with tears, the hurt evident, her trust in him, men, and people shattered. As he chugged another swallow, Sophia morphed into Kenzie. Sophia was stronger, as she used her anger and professionalism to support herself—but Kenzie was different. She was young, too young to know anything. That’s what had attracted him in the first place. Sophia was too aware, self-assured, and he loved that about her. She wanted to help him, to work things out, to be his best friend, his lover and partner. The more she gave, the more he needed to keep a distance, to push back, hide just to keep his secrets buried. With Kenzie, unlike Sophia, the level of maintenance and energy that it took to maintain his secrets and upkeep a persona of loving fiancé was almost nonexistent—almost too easy. Everything was too new and glorious, and right from the beginning Kenzie had worshiped him, and he had just royally fucked her over.

The room swirled and shifted again until his memories were centered on his mother, on things he had blocked out and long ago buried.

On a conscious level, he barely remembered the before, with his mother. Only that it existed and ended shortly after his baby sister, Shannon, was born. The small bits of memory that pushed their way through were strange where he felt detached because the family he saw in his head appeared happy. It was after Shannon’s birth when everything changed, his memories strongest-what he fought to hide and keep buried.

Holding his head, sitting in a crouched fetal position, he nursed the bottle of Jack until his throat was a steady burn. Barriers he had built to hold back those memories suddenly fractured, and crushed under the added pressure of pain he had caused Kenzie.

Sharon’s voice filled his head, sounding sober and offering apologies; however, all he heard were excuses.

Though it was the memories afterwards, during his visitations, after they separated. That Chad had lied about, didn’t want anyone to know especially dad or Rex, when she started drinking again.

That was also when things got really fucked up—the things Chad didn’t want to remember, and was the only one who did remember. The things that Sharon’s blackouts had erased.

His grasp slipped from the bottle, causing him to spill and splash the foul, familiar scent over his shirt. His stomach rolled, revolted, and forced him to jump up and run toward the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet as he spewed the remaining contents of his stomach. After dry heaving, Chad stayed squatting there on the floor, panting, the vile smell stroked a reawakening memory. Disoriented, his head throbbed in pain, and his vision blurred as he moved to crawl back into the room. Reaching for the bottle that was sitting there on its side right where he dropped it, he was determined to do anything to bury and erase those memories. Curling up into a ball, he started nursing what was left in the bottle, oblivious of anything else other than his goal to shut out those memories he couldn’t voice, couldn’t tell.

*~*~*~*

The repetitious sound of ringing was starting to drive Chad crazy, it stirred him more awake and set off another round of throbbing pain throughout his body. He struggled to ignore the ringing, but it continued, seemingly non-stop, punctuated intermittently by a harder knock that echoed in-between the continuous ringing. Slowly he rolled over; his body feeling battered and bruised, stinking of alcohol.

Even the slightest movement had his stomach rolling, but he had to stop that ringing. He belatedly realized it was his phone. Swiping a hand over his face, he finally opened his eyes. Thankfully, the curtains were drawn, and it was dark. Glancing at the clock, its bright digital numbers said 6:45. Thing was he had no idea if that was AM or PM.

His head jerked toward the sound, and he glared evilly at the door finally recognizing the pounding for what it was; that some asshole was persistently knocking at his door.

Shakily he stood, and made his way over to his door just to crack it open enough to tell ‘em to go fuck off.

He heard a rushed, “Thank God”, and his door was pushed open further, forcing him to step back. It was his manager, Megan. She easily maneuvered and forced her way in, ducking under his stretched out arm where he continued holding the door. She shooed him back in the room, ignoring his muttered, fuck, as she turned and told the bellhop or whoever it was, to make that two pots, before shutting the door behind her.

Disheveled Megan still looked adorable, a petite pixie, no taller than Kenzie, though it was her voice that destroyed the image of the sweet innocent girl next door as she bellowed loudly. “Jesus Christ, Chad, what the hell are you doing? Shit! You already found out, didn’t you? Fuck who the hell told you?”

Chad just stood there gaping, trying to close out the harsh tones of her voice as it ricocheted, around the room sending pains throughout his body. He shuffled back toward the bed, and fell when his knees hit, barely sitting up, glaring as she moved toward the window.

“Air.” She drew the curtains open, then fully opened the sliding door to the balcony. Blinked, he against the sun, then fell back, rolling over, pulling covers up ready to hide.

“Jesus you sink. This room sinks.” He could hear her coming toward him.

“No, you don’t.” She pulled at the covers, yanking them out of his hands and off the bed, leaving him entirely bare except his boxers. He gripped hard on his pillow burrowing his head underneath it, trying to muffle out her voice—but it wasn’t working “Chad don’t, we need to strategize, make it work. We still have time. We’ll take it to the public. Trust me, your fans will rally behind you.”

He could hear her, moving and shuffling about settling in at the desk. Probably setting up her laptop. “Now you want to tell me who told you? If there’s a leak, it might’ve gone to press, or is about…”

He didn’t want to pay attention, but what she was saying finally registered. His heart started to race, wondering if Kenzie had gone to the press. He lifted his head, blinking toward Megan, his tongue thick and heavy from dehydration. “What? I… She didn’t, did she?”

Megan sat there staring at him then slowly enunciated each word as she asked. “Chad…she who?”

He hoarsely whispered. “Kenzie.”

Megan stood and walked into the bathroom, bringing out a glass of water, and handed it to him. “Drink. Then tell me.”

He quickly downed the water, nodding his thanks. “You were saying she already went to the press?”

“Kenzie? No, what? Chad you better tell me, what’s going on? What happened?”

He shook his head, refusing to answer. Instead he countered demanding, “Why are you here Megan, what the fuck are you talking about?”

Cursing, she sighed, realizing she wasn’t going to get an answer at least not yet. “Fine, they don’t want to renew your contract.”

Throwing the pillow to the side, Chad sat up dazed. He had thought, well he thought Kenzie, or his mother held some sort of press conference verbally flaying him alive—this was about losing his job, something he never would have predicted. “What?”

From his evident shock, Megan moved toward the bed and sat down beside him. “Shit! I’m sorry, Chad. I thought that’s why you barricaded yourself in.”

Everything started to spin; he desperately wanted his head to explode just so it’d stop pounding.

Standing again Megan started to pace. “We tried to reach you. Like I said we can go public, let your fans…”

“Why?”

Megan stopped her pacing, avoided looking at him. He repeated, “Megan, tell me, why?”

“It’s not official, no one will go on record…”

His voice cracked as he tried to yell, demanding. “I don’t give a fuck, tell me!”

“Chad…” She shook her head, then lowered it in defeat. “Shit! Fine, it’s the rumors between you and Hilarie has the suits spooked. They don’t want a repeat performance of you going through co-stars. Like I said we can make it public, on our terms. Show them how you and Kenzie are stronger than ever. Hilarie’s never said anything to the contrary. We can use that.” Her voice lowered and quietly added, “Even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter as long as she doesn’t say anything.” Then she pushed on, pacing again, each step more confident. “It’s damage control, we can spin it. Fact is, they need you. The entire show was, and is, based on your character. Without you they don’t have a show. And they know it.”

He fell back onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling.

“Chad?” He could hear it in her voice, dawning realization. “Chad, why are you here?”

His voice barely carried, “It’s over.”

“I told you, we can…”

“No!” He choked out, “Fuck! That too, but I meant with Kenzie, we’re not, I ended it.”

His head pounded louder, and though it was under her breath he could still hear Megan’s sputtered cursing. He ignored the instinctual urge to roll back over and hide. His stomach pitched hard enough that he had to sit up and move quickly toward the bathroom.

Megan waved him away, “Good, go take a shower, sober up. I gotta call Ted. We’re definitely gonna need a new plan.”

He shut the door behind him, his stomach rolling. His legs were moving before he could even process what was happening as he fell to his knees emptying his stomach.

He wasn’t sure how long he stayed there. His body almost curled around the toilet, hugging the seat as he continued hurling until there was nothing but dry heaves. He heard Megan knocking, asking if he was okay. He ignored her, turning on the tap. Desperate to drink, he began to cup his hands, but abruptly he tilted his head and angled until he was drinking straight from the faucet. His mouth was gritty, the stink of liquor in his pores lingered. He nearly gagged again as he ran his tongue over his teeth, he needed a toothbrush.

Yelling out, he asked Megan to call down for basic amenities. He didn’t wait for an answer, but dropped his boxers, turned on the shower and climbed in.

He hung his head, allowing the pulsing hot water to cascade over his aching body. It didn’t help. Not that he deserved it. He knew he deserved every painful ache.

How could he have fucked up so badly? He had promised himself he wouldn’t after everything with Sophia. Yet here he was again, and this time he didn’t just screw over one person… this time it was Hilarie and Kenzie.

Hilarie, she knew the truth. Kenzie, he hung his head remembering that he almost told her the whole thing- at least he did tell her that he was gay. She deserved that. Like Hilarie had said, Kenzie deserved someone to be there 100 percent. Knew that if Sharon wasn’t there he might have told Kenzie everything.

Though none of that excused him to drink like that, like her, his mother…

He was stone cold sober now, but it didn’t stop him from wanting to fold in on himself, to have another drink, to find that oblivion again, to stop caring.

Above the water he heard Megan yelling through the door. “Jesus fucking Christ Chad, if you don’t get that scrawny ass out here, I’m going to come in and haul it out here… don’t think I won’t!”

Of that he had no doubt. Without thinking, he stuck his head out from behind the curtain, yelling back in response. “Be out in a minute.” Grabbing the soap, he finally lathered up then rinsed, washing away the stink from his pores.

Turning off the water, he stepped out, toweling himself dry as he moved. Glancing at the dirty boxers, he snagged another towel and wrapped it around his waist and walked out.

Megan sat at the desk, talking softly on her cell. He glanced over to the table to find that plates and trays decorated its surface. He recognized the fruit and biscuits, but once he noticed the pot of coffee, he ignored everything else and walked over to pour a full cup.

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Megan pointing. He turned in the direction and saw a pile of clothes, a bottle of aspirin, and a bag of what turned out to be travel essentials, including a new toothbrush and toothpaste. Putting them on top of the pile of clothes, still holding his coffee he made his way back to the bathroom in order to break in his new toothbrush.

*~*~*

Reentering the room fifteen minutes later, he felt better. He had brushed his teeth three times before he felt satisfied. The sweats and tee shirt, though new and clean, were too large, and he internally cringed when he automatically thought they’d fit Jared better.

No matter what was going on he had to stop thinking about Jared. That ship sailed long ago. And it wasn’t like Jared didn’t know, on both counts. Knew that Chad was bi, and that he had been interested in Jared.

ChadChad? Hey are you with me?”

Chad jerked, Megan’s hand waving in front of his face. “What?”

“He’s back.” She spoke into her cell then to him. “Ted’s on the line, we need to discuss a game play here, do some damage control, ok?”

Chad just stared at her.

“Come on.” Taking his hand, they moved over to the table where she promptly pushed him to sit down. Picking up the coffee pot she filled another cup, and put it front of him before she sat down, placing her cell phone on the table between them. “Ok, Ted, you’re on speaker.”

“Are you out of your fucking mind? Jesus Christ, Chad, you trying to kill me?”

Whatever Ted said from there on he tuned out, and shut his eyes, slumping in his seat.

Meagan obviously got the message, “Fucking Christ, Ted. Ted, Ted! Shut the fuck up, you’re supposed to talk damage control, not lecture...”

Ted interrupted, “Fucker’s not listening is he?” He didn’t wait for a response. “Fine, fine. Damage control…. So far Hilarie hasn’t said anything, but word is she’s really focused on trying to make her marriage work. Worst case scenario, she goes public, about your… about the affair… what about Kenzie, will she say anything?”

He heard only bits and pieces of their conversation; it all consisted of different ways to spin various outcomes. That he’d need to remain in the public’s eye, whether he liked it or not. That the last thing he could do was fade into the background like he did last time- after things ended with Sophia, and when he got engaged to Kenzie. It was only in the last year that he was starting to come back gain the public’s approval.

Now this. Truth was it didn’t matter if Kenzie or Hilarie ever said anything. It was already in the tabloids that Hilarie wasn’t returning to the show, that she was seeing a marriage counselor. Had publicly stated that the show had played a role and put a strain on her marriage - that she was choosing her marriage over the show. Once word got out that his engagement with Kenzie was over, and that he wouldn’t be returning to the show- preverbal shit to fan. Even with his hangover he could see what was coming. Could add two and two together, and come up with four that the network would spin it so that he was a disruptive troublemaker on set, someone who couldn’t keep it in his pants around his costars. Right now no matter what he did, the public and press would draw their own conclusions, eternally dubbing him a womanizing adulterer douchebag.

At present, he was too drained, too overloaded and frankly didn’t care. Abruptly he stood. Fishing for his keys and glasses, he grabbed both as he moved to leave. He muttered that he had to go feed the dogs, to see Joe. Nearly in a panic, he needed to get the hell out of there, do something constructive, anything to feel a bit centered. He bet that feeding and playing with his dogs, with Joe, in a small way would make him feel better, at least for a few brief moments, and right now that’s all he cared about.

*~*~*~*

A month later, not much had changed, except that now he was living alone.

The quiet stealth entrance was abandoned as Axel and Joe came running and barking, overly excited to see him. Immediately he bent down, and he started to scratch behind Joe’s ears, his other hand rubbing scratching alongside Axel’s back. With a sideways glance behind him, Chad waited, looking for Tum Tum to come running, yapping in excitement, pushing in-between the larger dogs demanding attention, her turn to say hello—but it never came.

He looked up to see the truth written over the housekeeper’s face; her slightest nod told him everything he needed to know: Kenzie had left. He nodded in understanding, thankful for the silent communication. He then offered Joe and Axel more attention. Sharon suddenly spoke. “I think you should send her home. She’s employed by the Dalton agency; you can hire someone else through an agency. Right now, you should be surrounded by family.”

Shaking his head in disbelief, unable to believe what he was hearing, Chad turned, frowning. Then, in frustration, he rubbed his hands over his face, threading his fingers through his hair. Holding himself in check, he quietly told her he wanted her to leave.

Sharon just stood there. “I don’t think that’d be a good idea right now. You need…”

At that he glared, no longer holding back his temper. “Sharon, what I need is for you to listen and to leave.”

She shook her head, “Chad Michael, I’m your mother and I want to help, to be here for you.” She moved toward him, and her hand reached up to squeeze his shoulder in comfort.

Turning away, he brushed her hand off, inhaling as he tried to calm his already frayed nerves. Right now, he honestly didn’t give a shit what Sharon wanted, but he had his siblings to think about: Nicky, Brandon, and Shannon for them it was a different story. They were too young to remember what she was like before she was clean and sober. Unlike him or Rex, his younger siblings actually had a relationship with Sharon. Where his siblings were constantly – actively, trying to bridge a gap between her and them – to him. Chad also knew that she hadn’t already called to tell them the news that he cheated – again – breaking his engagement, and that Kenzie had left him. That she would be on the phone as soon as he kicked her out. Though it didn’t matter; he’d rather deal with any of his siblings than deal with her.

Walking toward the door, and opening it wide, he didn’t mince any words. “Funny!” he deadpanned, and turned, holding the door wider. “Now get the hell out.”

She stood there for a moment then straightened her back, and nodded. “Alright Chad, I will for now, but I’ll be back.” As she walked toward the door she stopped in front of him. The top of her head reaching his chin, she tilted up to stare at him. His hand clutched at the knob, and he wanted to back away to distance himself, physically and emotionally. He tried to think of Dan Scott, of Lucas’ hatred for his father, attempting to channel those emotions. His insides twisted, and he couldn’t escape the perverse love/hate feelings he felt for Sharon. Thankfully, she didn’t challenge him. “You may not believe me now, but I promised your brothers and sister that I’d never walk away again. And I meant it Chad. Not from them and not from you, ever again.”

He didn’t answer, and he heard her sigh, then walk through the door, closing it tight behind her. His body nearly collapsed against the door, inhaling air that he hadn’t even realized he had been holding it.

The housekeeper stayed on, keeping her regular schedule, and added extra hours in-between. She was a go-between him and Kenzie. At times, she came over to watch Axel on the days he took Joe with him to the studio. She also started to cook meals, leaving instructions for heating and for how long. It had nearly killed him when she said that Kenzie wanted to make sure he was all right, that he ate, that he was taken care of.

The show’s producers had stayed firm as they continued moving the characters in a direction where everything would be tied up to have Lucas and Peyton go off into the sunset, happily ever after. Each day he tried to hold out hope that things would change, that Ted would work some deal with the execs where Chad could stay. It was a stretch, but one he tried to hang on to. Whether it was for the fans, or Hilarie, the fact was that the producers were leaving a door open, an opportunity for either actor to possibly come back. He couldn’t deny that it was something he was honestly grateful for.

The days grew longer, and gossip hounds and rumors continued to fly rampant. First about his infidelity with Hilarie, and then that he wasn’t being signed for season seven, along with speculations of why they were leaving the show. It definitely didn’t help that Kenzie had moved back in with her parents, or that he and Hilarie steered clear of each other, and that unless they were in character they didn’t talk. He knew it was probably better that way. Hilarie was actively trying to make things work with Ian because she only stuck around to do her scenes before rushing off to pack, and was flying out to California to be with her husband.

Off set, Chad became a recluse.

Thankfully, Kenzie kept quiet, especially regarding his confessions and his involvement with Hilarie. Not that the reporters didn’t ask Kenzie, but she never answered one way or the other. Nor did she deny the questions or statements they made; her only reply was the standard No comment. But each clip response sounded pained, and her misery vibrated off of each word, making it clear that whatever had happened had hurt her, that ending their engagement wasn’t her choice-that he was the one who ended it.

It was true, all of it, and that was something Chad couldn’t deny either, so he didn’t. She also didn’t make his life worse by mentioning his confession that he was in love with a man. At least she believed that he told her the truth.

The upside was that he no longer had to avoid any of the cast or crew; they happily stayed away, not knowing what to say.

Not that he honestly gave them any opportunity.

It was nearly a month later before Kenzie hired new PR people, and they made an official statement regarding tabloid rumors - that their engagement was over. By then it was old news, no one cared and no one was surprised.

*~*~*~*

Maybe he shouldn’t have ignored Sharon’s calls, then maybe she wouldn’t have taken it as a challenge or misguided fucking mission to save his soul, but that was exactly what his mother decided needed to be done.

When he ignored and banned her from the studio and the house, she immediately contacted his siblings and gave them an earful as predicted. Unlike Kenzie, who in reality had every right to hate him and fuck him over, but actually respected and loved him enough not to out him. He couldn’t say the same about his mother.

Okay, so she didn’t exactly out him, but she turned his life into a media circus.

It might have been funny, had it been anyone else - someone he wasn’t related to. Then he could just click off the set, change the channel to just move on and dismiss her righteous sermonizing. Problem was, they were related. In his heart, for the most part, at least in regards to his mother since he was ten, he honestly didn’t give a shit about her. Though when it came to his brothers, and his sister—he did care, they were his world, and he had spent his life and entire career doing what he could to protect them.

Nick was the first to call, but it was Shannon’s call that killed him. She wasn’t upset over his infidelity, but over their mother’s righteousness. Even over the phone he could tell she was more than rattled. She was rambling on that Sharon wasn’t making sense, that she refused to listen, and feared their mother’s threats that she’d do something to make him listen, to seek help.

It had started with small blurbs on TMZ that quickly snowballed. It was like she was gearing for a book tour, a tell-all book on his fucking life. Dramatically taking the blame on herself; willingly confessing her sins as an abusive alcoholic mother to any listening public. By the end of the week, his mother had achieved her goal.

That first time, he watched amazed as she stared into the camera. Large, lucid blue-eyes pleading as she offered to go to meetings, vowed to be by his side every step of the way during his recovery. Stunned, his stomach flipped before he angrily clicked off the set.

Later that night, Rex flew in and showed up at his door. The next day, arriving just as quickly were his brothers Nick and Brandon then his dad and Shannon. The more his family supported him, and that Kenzie stayed silent, the more Sharon went off, claiming her desire wasn’t to expose him, but to be at his side and hold his hand, to comfort and support him through AA.

When she didn’t get the response she had banked on, she started to insinuate about his secret, forcibly outing him. He actually wondered if she had started drinking again, but decided that this was worse as she continued working the system, milking it for her own fifteen minutes of fame.

It was when the innuendoes on his sexuality started flying that he was able to force most of his family to go home, with Megan’s help.

Thankfully, his family thought it was a laughable lie. His own nerves were too frayed, and he never said anything to deny or suggest one way or the other, but that was when his cell started ringing off the hook. It was enough that he had turned it to vibrate, then off, when he didn’t pick up after Megan called several times. The first calls and messages were from Jared. He wanted to know if he was ok, if Chad needed or wanted him there? That he was willing to fly down. Then Hilarie started to call, a few other cast-mates, and even Sophia got into the act. Each checking in on him to make sure he was okay, not that he was answering or responding, but they didn’t seem to mind – only a few had demanded he call them back. Jared was on the top of that list.

And he did, purposely calling when he knew Jared would be filming and couldn’t, wouldn’t be able to pick up his cell. He’d quickly told Jared not to be a dick, and to stop worrying. It was a lie, of course. He wasn’t fine, but Chad couldn’t tell his best friend that he was about to be outted by his mother—Jared already got that; he was sure Jared had seen Sharon on TMZ, but what Jared didn’t know was that Chad was still in love with him, had never stopped being in love with him. And even on the verge of being outted, he couldn’t face that, at least not yet, not if he didn’t have to, and playing the avoidance game allowed him to live in denial.

Ted had told him that because of the added publicity, any renegotiation talks for season seven with the network were stalled and temporarily scrapped. Due to the lurking paparazzi, and to keep spoilers from leaking, his last days of filming were on a closed set.

He could only be thankful they kept the original script and ended Lucas/Peyton on a happy note as a happily married family alive, and he did have his concerns, with baby in tow to ride off into the sunset.

The network started to utilize the available press by spinning it to their advantage, and highlighting season seven. On his last day, after the last scene, there was no party, no fanfare, not even lunch. He left the day and the studio as quietly as he had arrived earlier that morning. Hilarie had tried to talk to him, but it was too hard between them. For the moment, their goodbye was each touch, each kiss, and each embrace Lucas and Peyton had for each other- for now it was enough.

Others tried to approach him, to make his last day less somber, but nothing anyone did felt right. Surprisingly, it was Sophia who cornered him. She was waiting in his trailer with Joe. It had been a long time since they’d been in the same room and didn’t have a script between them, where he wasn’t Lucas and she wasn’t Brooke. It was odd, uncomfortable, but simultaneously like coming home. He kept a safe distance and moved to sit down, greeting Joe as he did.

She stood, fidgeted nervously. “Not going to be the same.”

He wanted to be angry, to be pissed, but he couldn’t. Nothing had changed; he was the one who had fucked everything up. With Sophia, Kenzie, his career, family, especially his friendship with Jared- who didn’t even know it yet, there wasn’t an area in his life he hadn’t fucked up. Joe nuzzled up against his hand, making him smile; he silently conceded that maybe he didn’t fuck up Joe or Axel’s life. Though if he took into account that they had lost Kenzie, but also their friend Tum Tum, then shook his head berating himself to not go there.

Refocusing, he stated flatly, “No it won’t.” He looked up, letting her know he was sincere. “You’ll make it better.”

Slowly Sophia nodded, lips quivering under her grin, telling him she was barely holding it together.

Chad glanced down to Joe who lay at his feet. “Ready to go?” Suddenly Joe sat up barking, then pranced in place, as Chad stood laughing.

“Too fucking stubborn for your own good.” Initially stern, her voice faltered and choked as she rushed into his arms, hugging him tight. For a moment he was lost, unsure of what to do. This was Sophia, his ex-wife, not Brooke. At his indecision she pulled him in even tighter. Relieved, he let go of a shaky breath and tentatively returned the embrace. They stayed like that until Joe barked again, impatiently waiting.

Laughing, Sophia finally pulled away. Her hand swept up, wiping away a few tears. She held his gaze, silently transferring some message of wisdom. Whatever she was trying to say, he wasn’t getting it. Sadly she shook her head, her eyelids lowered, understanding he didn’t get it. Nodding in acceptance, she gazed up at him. The tone of her voice lighter, louder, almost robust within the confines of the small trailer. “Hey Chad one day, you’re gonna see it, believe it, and if you’re lucky those that actually matter- we’ll still be around.” Moving toward the door, she started to leave. Outside on the last step, she leaned back and hung her head back inside, looking up at him expectantly, and firmly stated, “No regrets,” before shutting the door behind her.

Shocked, Chad just stared at the closed door until Joe barked, demanding his attention. Distractingly, he soothingly patted Joe’s coat, not quite able to wrap his head around what just happened. Absentmindedly, he answered Joe’s insistent barking. “Yeah yeah, let’s go.”

*~*~*~*

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