THREE:

 

"ONE O SIX POINT SEVEN! Orlando's choice for today's hit music--" The DJ's voice started up again as another song ended on the radio.

Justin sleepily shifted the car into the next gear and watched the rearview mirrors as he merged into eastbound traffic on Interstate 4. With the light flow of cars it would only take him fifteen minutes to get to the studio, enough time to drink the double espresso he'd stopped for that morning before heading in early. He was going to meet JC to work on the newest single. They'd decided to throw a few vocals down while they were both there since JC would be leaving for a week of vacation in LA when he was done with Meredith.

Once into his lane on the interstate he let the DJ's voice take over again, "Next up we have former girlfriend of Justin Timberlake, yep that's right. Grammy nominated Meredith Willis' hit Ready to--"

Justin quickly punched the button to flip on his CD changer just as the first few notes came from the speakers. As the CD loaded and he nervously tapped his palm against the stick shift, then against his wind pant covered thigh, then against the stick shift again as if the song couldn't come on fast enough.

When his cell phone rang from where he'd thrown it onto the passenger seat he reached over quickly, flipped open the phone, pulled the hands-free ear attachment up, stuck it into his ear quickly then pressed send. "Shoot it at me," he said with a cocky tone to his voice, moving his sunglasses a little before he put his had back to the stick shift. He hadn't checked the caller ID, but he figured it would be someone he knew since it was late in the morning. Most of his freakish phone calls came in the middle of the night or in the middle of a meal and since he was in neither situation he decided to answer figuring that it was JC calling him to tell him he'd slept through the alarm like he usually did.

"Hi honey," the squeaky voice said.

He winced at the sound in the person's voice. "Hey Pinky," he said with a light tone even though she was probably the last person he thought would be calling him at nine in the morning. "What are you up to?"

"Nothing," she said then took a breath and her voice lowered, "I missed you last night and yesterday."

"I know," he said checking his rear view mirror once then pushing himself around in his seat. He kicked off his sport sandal and pressed his foot to the gas and sped up a little when he saw the clock was nearing nine-thirty. "I'm sorry I didn't call, but I had work all day then went to work out and then got home and spent time with my mom."

"Well you could have at least called to say goodnight," she said, "I don't know why you're doing this whole producing thing...I mean I know you love it, but you're a singer and I think you're a great one so you should really stick to that." He could picture her, three thousand miles away pouting into the phone. "Where are you?"

"On the freeway sweetie," he said. He gripped the steering wheel with both hands for a moment making his knuckles turn white.

"Good," she said, "I caught you before you got to the booth...I was wondering if you'd come out to LA for the weekend to see me."

"Pinky, I can't," he said with a sigh realizing that this would be the fifth time in the last week that he'd reminded her about him being stuck in Orlando that vacation. He would have loved to come and visit her, but it was really impossible to do both. Flying out to LA for the weekend didn't seem like a good thing to be doing at the moment. "You know I can't. I'm working on Meredith's album and I'm working on some tracks with C and well it's--"

Justin saw his exit and cut over quickly so he wouldn't miss it, getting honked at in the process. He stuck a hand up to wave sorry to the person then took a left and began to weave his way down to the WEG compound.

"I thought you'd say that," she pouted, "I don't understand why you're working on her album anyway. You promised me that you'd work with me and haven't gotten around to that yet."

"Britney, stop it," he said turning onto the street that lead to the compound, "I can't have this conversation with you right now."

"When then?"

He shouldn't have said what he just said. It was true, he'd been thinking about telling her off for days now, but he didn't want an international incident on his hands if he got mad at the girl he was seeing. He took a breath and tried to think fast. "When I have time to give it my full concentration," he said, "I'm in work mode right now Pinky and you know how I get. Can I call you tonight when I'm done and we'll talk?"

"I guess," she said.

"Pinky please don't be mad at me," Justin said as he parked behind JC's Jeep. He shut off the car, pulled himself from the bucket seat and carried his phone and coffee with him into the building. "You know that I have to get this work done. This isn't a favor right now, the record label hired me to do this and I'm having a hard time getting the producers I want so I have a feeling that I'm gonna be doing a lot of this myself."

Justin walked down the hall towards the studio and found JC already inside tapping away on his laptop. He wore baggy pants and a sweatshirt, which meant only one thing. He'd either slept there that night or he'd come in at three in the morning or something, before the sun had risen, to work. From over his shoulder Justin could see that it was a mixing program he was working on and that JC had the background to the new single up on the screen.

"C," Justin said moving his mouth away from where the microphone was hanging on the line from his ear to his phone, "Leave it alone."

JC looked up and Justin sighed. He'd been in the studio all night again. He could see the tiredness in his eyes. "I'm almost done."

"Have you had coffee yet?" Justin asked knowing that his friend was a coffee-a-holic and would be useless unless he had at least a cup in him.

"Justin are you ignoring me?" Britney said in his ear.

"Honey, hold on a second, JC has been in here all night." He didn't like to be the parent figure over his friend, but JC really did look like he'd not been to sleep the night before.

The coffee cup in his hand got heavy and Justin held it out to JC, knowing that JC probably needed it more than he did. "Espresso?"

JC looked at it then looked down again at the keyboard, "Can you heat it up?"

"Yeah. I'll be right back."

"Stinky I'm going to hang up on you," the voice said into his ear.

Justin pushed out the door and took his coffee to the kitchen at the end of the hall. He took the plastic top off the cup, grabbed down a mug from the cupboard that said Drink Me and poured the cooling liquid into it then shoved it into the microwave for a minute.

"I'm sorry sweetie," Justin said leaning against the counter he hooked the phone to his belt and crossed his arms over themselves across his chest. He closed his eyes and tried to take a calming breath, but it wasn't working too well. He was getting a headache. It always happened when he was away from her and couldn't go visit easily. Actually, it was a stress for him to know that people, in general, were missing him and he couldn't go see them. "You should have seen JC, he looked a little out of it."

"Justin doesn't his woman take care of him?" Normally he loved listening to her, well not loved, but liked to hear her, but today her voice grated on his nerves. "I thought that it was our jobs to take care of you guys."

"Pinky," he said with a smile, "You take great care of me, but well JC is pretty stubborn when it comes to stuff like that."

"But--"

The microwave dinged and Justin removed the mug. "Honey, I should go. I'll still call you tonight." He looked at the clock on the microwave. "I gotta get to work."

"Ok," she said with a sigh, "I love you."

"I love you too," he said quickly and walked quickly back to the studio.

When he got to the door he heard music and cracked the door open and looked in to see Meredith sitting on JC's lap looking at the computer screen and laughing. She had an arm around his shoulder and he could see his friend's arm around her waste. "This isn't what you're putting on the new record are you?" she asked with a giggle leaning into him. It was a flirting move if he'd ever seen one...she'd done it to him a million and one times in their past.

"Yes," JC said tickling her making her wiggle a little. Justin loved JC like a brother, but at the moment, seeing his fingers play against the fabric of her jeans he wanted to rip his fingers out of their sockets. "Why? You don't like it?"

"JC, honey it sounds like a Pac Man game," she said trying to hide her smile. Today she seemed half-normal. She wore jeans and running shoes and a tank top with a sweatshirt tied around her waste. Her hair was pulled up into a ponytail with strands hanging around her face, making her look as if she'd hurriedly pulled her hair up, but he knew better, she'd probably spent more than a half hour trying to get the strands to look right. That was just her style.

As his face brightened Justin sucked in a breath and watched his friend hug her. "That's what I want it to sound like."

"TIMBERLAKE!"

With the shout every muscle in Justin's body jumped. It was that whole fight or flight reaction to the booming voice and even though Justin didn't know if he wanted to fight or run he knew one thing. His hand had jerked with the noise and coffee had sloshed all over him causing him to yell out when it scalded his skin. "Owe! Shit!" Justin curled his hand into his stomach and groaned, "Fucking shit Gritty!" Justin swore a whole string of words as he ran towards the kitchen.

The water was turned on and his tingling flesh was doused with water as he leaned against the counter with his hip. He stared out the window and let the cool water run counting to ten slowly as he tried to relax. His thumb and first finger were throbbing and his head now ached even more than it had before due to the adrenaline rush he'd gotten from the burn.

"Justin."

He didn't turn around at the sound of the voice behind him. It was her, probably coming to gloat about the whole situation and at the moment he didn't need to see the expression on her face that he knew without looking would be patronizing.

"Justin." She was closer this time when she spoke and when he turned a little she was next to him, practically leaning on him. Her left arm slid around his back and her left breast pressed against his right rib as he leaned forward towards the water. It wasn't the best position to be in, but at the same time the distraction got him away from thinking about the pain.

********************

"Shit!"

"What?"

Justin grabbed his arm and howled. "I think I just broke my damn elbow."

"What did you do?" She immediately got up from the couch and quickly walked over to where he was hissing and groaning in pain.

His face was in a frown and his hand was holding on to his elbow. "I don't know, I was just walking and just ...damn it hurts. It hit my funny bone, shiiiit!"

She walked closer and pulled on his arm. "Come here."

"No, you'll hurt it." He pouted.

She rolled her eyes at his comment and pulled his elbow to where she could see it. "You are such a baby, let me look at it."

He smirked in his pain. "You are going to be a singer Merebear, not a doctor."

"Shut up, beedee."

When her finger barely touched the red part on his elbow he sucked in a quick breath and whined. "It really hurts."

"Did you just bang it into something?"

He nodded. "Yeah, the doorway in-between the kitchen and the den."

"Klutz." She chuckled.

"Do you think I should put some ice on it?"

Meredith shook her head and tried to flex his arm a bit, but by the sharp intake of breath, she figured she better not move it too much. "Nah, it will go away, you might have a nasty bruise though."

Her eyes left his elbow and travel over his torso to his own eyes. They seemed to plead with her. "Merebear, make it better."

She giggled and dipped her face. "I'll kiss it."

"That won't work."

Her eyebrow raised as she brought his arm closer to her face. "Oh it won't?"

"Nope." He smiled, the pain in his arm diminishing rapidly with the look she was giving him.

"Mmmhmmm." That was all she said before her lips came in contact with the joint of his arm. Her eyes locked with his as she kissed the flesh softly with her lips and then opened her mouth wider to suck tenderly, making the small red mark from his bump up, even redder.

Soon his eyes were closing shut with pleasure and her lips were traveling up his bicep and coming in contact with the sleeve of his T-shirt. His eyes shut and his head fell back when her lips touched the base of the column of his neck and began their trek upwards, over his adams apple and under his chin.

She whispered moving her head so that her lips were close to his, and she was practically breathing in his breaths. "Feel..." She closed her lips tightly against his once and then pulled back. "Better?"

He didn't even know there was such a thing as pain now. His arms pulled her small body into his and her tiny hands had to grip his shoulders for balance.

"Much."

It was all he said before crashing his lips down upon hers.

********************

"Are you ok?" she asked moving her head to the side. The stray strands of her hair fell along her neck and while to the normal person this would look like messiness Justin knew what it meant. She had done it intentionally. She'd asked him months ago if he'd liked her hair up or down and he'd requested up with just a few strands down and now she was wearing it like that.

"Better? Yeah." He nodded, slapped down the metal handle of the faucet and backed away from her.

Just the thoughts he'd had a moment before had put him into a compromising position and he knew that if she did anything else to him--or for him--that he'd step over the boundary that she'd laid down all those months ago. They weren't together, in fact he was with someone else, and he needed to remember that.

 

 

He was antsy and pacing the far end of the industrial kitchen while glaring at her; not looking at her, but glaring at her for some unknown reason. This instant transformation, the whole Jekyll/Hyde senerio that happened in front of her eyes wasn't a good sign. Justin normally was in control of his emotions. He prided himself on the fact that he was as cool as a cucumber except for very rare occasions so it was scary for her to see him so out of sorts. She was a bit scared to find out just what he might do.

She had only been trying to help him knowing how big of a baby he became when he was sick or injured, but this had never been his reaction to something like that. Sure he'd gotten a bit annoyed when she babied him, but most times he'd let her help. That morning he was definitely making it clear that she needed to keep her distance.

"Justin are you ok?" she asked again stepping forward a little with a hand out to try and grab a hold on his arm that he was cradling across his stomach.

He backed away from her with one jerky motion.

"Justin what's wrong with you?" she asked seeing the strange look in his eyes. It was almost as if he was in a daze or something and wasn't even seeing her standing there in front of him anymore. This man in front of her was a stranger.

"Leave me alone Meredith," Justin said in a harsh whisper, "Go back to the studio and warm up you voice."

Meredith cocked her head to the side and wanted to wish away the last six months of her life. It was the first time that she regretted the situation, the first time that all she wanted to do was cradle him in her arms and make him feel better because it was clear that he wasn't at all himself. "But--"

"Just GO!" He growled at her angrily.

There was suddenly pain in his eyes, pain that she didn't understand. When he turned his back slightly to her she turned to leave figuring it was better to not fight with him this early in the day.

"Haven't you already done enough?" he mumbled behind her.

Meredith could have taken that comment two ways, but instead of trying to decipher his whisper she kept walking, but the comment didn't go unnoticed.

In the hallway she bit back tears. She leaned against the wall for support and tried to take deep breaths. She hadn't known that being back here with him would be so hard and while at first she was the one to reject him, he now was rejecting her. She wondered why she was being punished again for what was going on. If seeing him with another woman wasn't bad enough it was as if the whole ordeal was being placed on her shoulders again because she'd been the one to separate from him.

Finally she staggered into the doorway of the studio to find Gritty chatting with JC. She looked at them both, took a deep breath and stepped into the door.

"You ok?" JC asked as she entered the studio.

"What'd he do?" Gritty asked immediately. She figured he'd seen the distress on her face. She wasn't much good at hiding that kind of stuff.

"Yeah," she said with a sigh and flopped down on the couch, "He's just being pissy again. I'm fine."

"I don't know what's wrong with him lately," JC supplied shaking his head as he pulled out her sheet music for her and passed it over. "I don't know what his issue is...I mean I do know that it has something to do with you, but I'm not sure what is going on."

Meredith looked at the copy with JC's chicken scratch notes on it and shrugged. "It's gotta be PMS or something." She read a little and said, "Are you sure we have to redo all of this?"

Gritty began to chuckle next to her, "That boy is the biggest girl I know."

"Fuck you Gritty," Justin said coming in the door. He walked past them, took his seat and turned around looking as calm and cool and collected as always, "Can we get to work now?"

Meredith's jaw would have dropped if she hadn't been trying to control herself. She stared at him for a moment and wondered how he could so easily recover from being so completely enraged. She'd pictured him being antsy for the rest of the morning, but whatever had happened in the last few moments seemed to have turned him back to the level headed man that she'd known before the break up.

"Do you think you're up to redoing the middle chorus today?" JC asked, "I know we don't have a lot of time on these, but I feel like you were flat yesterday and we need to hear that pitch that we talked about when we started out."

Meredith nodded and slid out of her shoes and walked into the booth. She took a few deep breaths and tried to stare only at JC on the other side of the glass so that she wouldn't get distracted.

 

 

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