FOUR:

 

"I can't believe you did this."

Justin narrowed his steel blue eyes at his mother across the kitchen and let out a sigh. Lynn's curly hair was in a ponytail and she looked very relaxed in a collared polo shirt and jeans standing in the midst of the high tech kitchen cooking, unlike himself who was wound up as tight as a tightrope.

He'd come home to a house that smelled like home cooking, but he found out quickly that the special meal wasn't for him. He almost didn't have to ask who the meal was for. His mother only cooked like that for a few people that surrounded their family and it was only logical that SHE would be the one to visit the house that night since no one on their short list of dinner guests were in town except her.

"Well believe it honey," His mother answered with a simple smile.

Lynn Harless wasn't one to be messed with. She'd taken Justin over her knee more than a few times in his younger years and he knew not to mess with her. If he was going to have an attitude with her then she would dish it right back at him. It was a great trait for a manager to have, but at the moment he wasn't sure that his mother should be acting that way. He thought she should be siding with him, but even after all these months she still was siding with Meredith for some reason. Maybe it was because Meredith was the daughter that Lynn had never had or maybe it was because Meredith was her client, either way it seemed that Justin's mother had cut the apron strings he'd been holding onto for years now in just a matter of a few moments.

Feeling a fit of panic coming on Justin moved across the kitchen trying not to speak too harshly to his mother. He needed her to understand that Meredith was the last person that should be within any kind of distance of him. "I have plans tonight."

"No, you don't," she said not even looking up to acknowledge him.

"How do you know?" His grumpy tone couldn't be hidden and his mother gave him a look. "I'm sorry," he immediately apologized, "I didn't mean to sass you, but I can't be stuck in this house with her. We'll kill each other."

"Well get over it," Lynn said forcefully as Paul came into the kitchen from the garage. Her second husband had probably just come home from the office. He carried a box of files and a laptop computer, which he immediately set down so that he could go and hug his wife. She softened the look on her face and leaned and kissed her husband then went back to checking on the food that was on the stove.

"Dad can you please make her let me go out tonight?" Justin whined calling his stepfather Dad knowing that it might help his chances.

"I mean it honey," Lynn interrupted holding up the wooden spoon she was using on the stew she was making, "I don't want you going out tonight."

Justin lifted his arms quickly and let them drop to his sides as if throwing a mini-tantrum. "But mom, if you--"

"No but-mom-ing me," she said sternly, "Go up and grab a shower because Meredith is going to be here soon and dinner is almost ready."

Justin leaned against the kitchen counter, covered his face and groaned. "Why are you torturing me like this?"

Paul finally decided to step in. Normally disputes between his mother and Justin were taken as just that, but in this case it seemed as if it was needed or the conversation would go on forever. "Justin listen to your mother and get up stairs. Tonight is a business meeting so you need to act accordingly."

"BUT IT'S NOT EVEN MY BUSINESS!" Justin growled as he turned to go towards the stairs that would lead him up to his room.

His mother stirred something in one of the pots on the stove. "You're producing our client's record so technically it is your business."

"Whatever!" he called back to them as he started up the stairs. He was tired after another long and frustrating day in the studio and the last thing he wanted to do was spend another night with her in his presence. It was bad enough that they'd be working just the two of them next week on the track he'd written, couldn't he at least have his nights off?

In his room Justin threw his keys on his dresser, kicked out of his shoes and went into the bathroom. He grabbed up his towel from where he'd left it on the floor that morning and hung it over the handle of the door on his way to turn on the water in the shower to warm up.

Once it was on he turned on the stereo in his room so that he could hear it in the shower and stripped out of his clothes to step in the shower.

After dealing with Meredith and the tension that always came along with working in the studio Justin stood for an extra amount of time under the spray of the shower. His neck and shoulders had been tense for most of the day and the hot shower water was his first attempt to rid himself of the neck and backache from earlier.

~~~~

"Hello?" Justin said grabbing up the phone as he jumped over his shoes and pants to get to the cordless phone that was on the night stand next to the window that faced the front of the house. He'd been standing in the bathroom shaving when he'd heard the phone ring and figured that it was a pretty important call if it was coming in on his private line, considering that only a few people had the number to begin with.

There was a pause then a cheery voice met his hello, "Hi Stinky."

Justin wanted to groan out loud at the sound of her voice. He wasn't sure though himself if the groan meant a good thing or a bad thing. He'd thought he'd have some time to wind down from the day before he was obligated to call her and had almost prayed that he'd get busy so he wouldn't have to. He wasn't in the mood to talk to her lately and almost felt relieved that she was stuck in LA. "Pinky I told you that I was going to call you tonight."

"I know, I know but I was on a break right now so I thought that I'd call you real quick and say hello because I've gotta get back to filming soon."

"Great, just great," Justin sighed as he turned away from the window after seeing Johnny's car pulling into the driveway. Grabbing at the edge of his towel to tuck it in as he pressed the phone to his ear and tried to ignore the fact that Meredith was about to enter the lower level of his house for the evening. He should have been getting dressed, but instead he went over and sat down on his bed, leaned back and put his feet up. The fact that he could hang out in just a towel had gotten to be a luxury so he wanted to take advantage of the situation.

"What?" she asked.

"Nothing sweetie," he said and took a deep breath and stared at his knee. He'd hit it against something earlier in the tour and the bruise that had formed there was still purple. It meant only one thing if he was still bruised like that. He needed rest...at least a few days. "I'm glad you have a minute to call me. I'm sorry about this morning and being kinda in a rush and I'm sorry for not being able to come out there to see you."

"It's ok," she said with a sigh, "I know how it is."

Justin paused for a moment when she said that. He wasn't expecting her to say that. "It is?"

She giggled. "Yeah." She took a breath and let it out then asked, "What are you up to?"

"I just got out of the shower. My mom invited Meredith over for dinner and told me I have to be there," he said with a sigh.

"Are you naked?" she asked in a whisper.

Justin was about to say something, but instead he waited for a moment. He'd heard the tone to her voice. She was flirting and even though he wasn't sure that he wanted to talk to her that evening, sitting on the phone with her like that seemed appealing after the day he'd had with Meredith. At least Britney would pay attention to him and talk to him like a regular human being.

"In a towel," he said with a chuckle, "Just laying in bed thinking about you."

He could tell that she was smiling. He pictured her sitting somewhere out in LA in her trailer with the phone pressed to her ear sitting back probably with her feet up. "Really?"

"I don't know," he said.

"Honey you're no good at this," she said, "Remember when I was in New York and you were in LA that one night when we--"

Justin adjusted himself on the bed a little remembering the conversation she was mentioning. "I remember that night just fine honey, but really phone sex doesn't help. I'm still just as sexually frustrated afterwards as I am when we start this."

"Please honey, for me," she said, "I love when you talk dirty to me. It's such a turn on. I haven't seen you in a while and that's the main reason I wanted you to come out here to visit me this weekend."

"Really?" he asked then looked up at the door to his room and got up to go over and close it.

"Yeah," she said, her voice going lower.

"My mother better not bother me," Justin said coming back over the bed.

"Why's that honey?" she asked.

Justin took his seat again and leaned back against the pillow. For all the times in the last weeks that her voice had grated on his ears, now her breathy voice over the phone was making it hard for him to sit still. "Because I want to be in LA," he said, "with you."

"I want you here too baby," she said.

"So are you in your trailer?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said, "Locked up alone for at least an hour of rest. I should be doing some other stuff, but I knew I needed to call you so I kicked Rob out and told him I didn't want to be disturbed."

"Locked up?" he asked raising an eyebrow at the way he could interpret that as a sexual statement. Bondage or whatever had never entered his mind but the thought of being stuck in her trailer with her for the evening seemed appealing.

"Yeah," she breathed out.

It was such a cliche line that came out of his mouth next, but he really wanted to picture her in LA. He knew what her trailer looked like from visiting her on the set two weeks before, but now he just wanted to see her. "What are you wearing?"

"I'm sitting on the bed up front and I've got that lamp on in the corner and I changed out of my costume into your pair of sweats you left here and my sports bra."

"You're probably drowning in my sweats," he said trying to picture her in the sweats that he'd left there. He knew which pair, the gray ones with the red stripe down the side, only because she'd called him to tell him she had them a day or so after he'd left LA.

"They're pretty low on my hips, like I could just slip out of them any minute," she said softly.

Justin's hand gathered up a handful of blanket and he squeezed the fabric to keep himself from getting too involved in the conversation. He didn't need to be doing this right now, but he couldn't help himself. He needed some kind of outlet, some kind of release if he was going to manage the next few weeks without her.

"What kind of underwear?" he asked clearing his throat, "Thong or regular?"

"Thong," she said.

For some unknown reason Justin's mind drifted to Meredith. She wouldn't be caught dead in thong underwear. She'd told him a million times that they were the most uncomfortable things she'd ever worn and had gone as far as to dare him to put a pair on.

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

Roaming hands had never been a problem for the two of them, but that afternoon Justin was being extra careful of where his hands went. She was already lying on top of him in the cramped bunk space and although he wanted to have more of her to put his hands on he knew at the same moment that he should be careful because there were other people in the bus.

"Justin?" she breathed out heavily after he'd kissed her deeply.

"Hmmm?" he answered looking up at her face with a half smile, licking his lips as she leaned over him. She was straddling his waist trying not to lie down too hard on him, but at the moment he wanted her to be closer to him. He'd first moved his hands over her bottom when she'd climbed on top of him and he'd been trying to keep her against him, but she wasn't cooperating too easily.

"What are you doing with your hands?" she asked with a smile.

Taking a huge breath Justin immediately lifted his hands from her waist. "Nothing," he said quietly.

Meredith moved and reached between them and he felt her doing something, hitting into his stomach a little with her hands.

He wasn't really concerned with her hands being between them, but when she accidentally brushed against the fly of his jeans causing him to suck in a deep breath of air in shock. He hadn't expected her to be that bold. Up until then they'd never made out on a bed really. Couches and chairs had been their only adventures. "What are you doing?" he asked looking down. All he could see was her shirt hanging down. She wore a v-neck that day and he could see almost all of her through the neck hole of the shirt.

Meredith sighed and laughed a little, "I'm not taking them off. I'm just undoing the button so you don't squish me to death."

Justin's face contorted into one of concern. He hadn't meant to get carried away. He guessed that he'd been pulling her too closely to him. "I was squishing you? I didn't--"

"Beedee you hand your hands half way down my pants and well with these jeans on-they just don't make these make out friendly."

"What?" he asked, "There is such a thing as make out friendly clothes?"

"No, but--well these pants just don't stretch that much." She leaned and kissed his lips softly lifting her body up off of him.

His hips seemed to move off the bunk's mattress on their own, following the movement of her body. "Oh."

"Jesus Justin," she said with a teasing tone, "I thought you had experience at this."

"I do," he said, "I just wanted to make sure that you wanted to be doing that--I mean the other guys are just out--"

Her finger came up and shushed him and lay back against him, causing a groan to come from both of them as their hips met. "I'm fine."

"Are you sure?" he asked and looked at the curtain that they'd drawn closed a while before as if it might be thrown open at any moment to reveal their make out session. He was fully aroused at the moment and he didn't think it would be a very good time to be interrupted by his other band mates.

"Do I have to do everything for you?" she asked sounding irritateded. Their conversation had slowed the pace of what they'd been doing and while he was trying to control himself it seemed as if Meredith's wild streak had finally caught up with her curiosity. She seemed about ready to do anything with him.

"No," he said and moved his hands back around her waist then slid them down beneath her waistband to hold a palm against her bottom. His palms slid over the smooth material of her underwear and rested there for a moment.

"What?" she asked.

"You're wearing granny underwear," he said simply.

"Granny underwear?" she asked, "I don't even know how you know what granny underwear are like."

"No, no," he said, "I meant I figured you to be a closet Victoria's Secret fan."

"I am," she said. She leaned and lifted up the band of her underwear to show him that they were from Victoria's Secret.

"No," he said, "I expected for you to be wearing some little sexy number or something."

Her eyebrows drew together. "Sexy number?"

"Yeah," he said moving his hand a little to push the material of her underwear out of the way, "Like a thong or something."

Meredith reached back and pushed the material of her underwear back into place over her bottom. "No girl likes to wear those things...believe me."

"You have one?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said, "ONE. I tried it on, wore it for a day and it now is keeping my socks company in the top drawer."

"Really?"

She nodded, "Those things are so uncomfortable."

Justin smiled and moved her hair out of her face when it fell forward, one hand still on her bottom. "I wouldn't know."

"They make them for boys," she said, "You should try one so you know what us girls go through."

"That's ok," he said.

"You couldn't do it," she said moving her hips a little to tease him, "You wouldn't last an hour in one."

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

He let out a laugh thinking about the conversation. It wasn't just what she'd said to him that day, but the fact that a FedEx package had arrived about two weeks later from her that contained one pair of men's thong underwear. He'd laughed at them and had called her to tell her that he wasn't at all going to be wearing them anytime soon.

 

 

Downstairs Meredith was enjoying the company of her second family. She'd gotten home from the studio that night to find a message from Lynn on her phone saying to come over. Even though Meredith knew that she should stay away from Justin she had been feeling a little homesick for her family. She figured that second family was going to be a good substitute for the real thing since her parents had moved away from Florida a few months before to be near her grandparents in Arizona.

When she'd been dropped off by Gritty he'd thought that she was crazy for being in their home. After speaking with Lynn and Paul for a moment and joining them in the kitchen to talk while Lynn cooked, she felt a little at ease and Gritty had left her there to face the evening alone.

"Justin should be down in a while," Lynn commented. It had been so long since she'd hung out in a real kitchen that it seemed almost strange to be there, yet so right at the same time. "How has recording been for you two?"

Meredith shrugged, "It's been ok. I like the studio and JC has been great, but with..." She took a breath then continued. "But with Justin and me in there things seem to take one step forward and two steps back. He's being really picky about this album, which I know is the sign of a good producer, but at the same time I think that he's picking on me a little."

Lynn sighed a sympathetic sigh. "He's a perfectionist when it comes to the studio. You know that. I mean how many times did you have to pull him away to come home to be with everyone?"

Meredith admired the way Lynn spoke to her normally as if the past wasn't something to get hung up on. It seemed as if Lynn was just trying to speak and not dwell on the tension that was clearly holding Meredith and Justin captive.

"I know he is," she said, "It's just hard to know what to take as personal and professional criticism. We still haven't figured that whole thing out."

Lynn stirred the stew once more, "You know he watched the Grammy's."

A breath caught in her throat as Meredith processed the information. He hadn't been there in person, just Paul and Lynn had accompanied her and her parents to the show. She'd been told that he'd been in LA with Britney at a party and it had scared to death to know that, but maybe her informant had been mistaken. "He did?"

"Yeah," Lynn said, "Had a fit because the VCR wasn't taping right or something."

"That's not at all the reaction that I expected out of him these days, but then again it seems like nothing between him and me is predictable anymore."

Lynn came around beside her and hugged her to her side. "He's really proud of you. He won't admit it, but he is. I know he is...I mean we all are."

"Thank you," Meredith said still feeling uncomfortable about hearing praise in the first place. The fact that it came from the Harless's was something else. It was a duel victory, not only were they family friends, but having them be her managers also made the compliment mean so much more to her. All she'd wanted after her and Justin's break up is that she would be taken seriously as an artist and not just be considered Justin's little pet project. So far things were working out as planned, but she did know he did have a lot to do with her success.

 

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

"Meredith it's for you honey!" her mother called up the stairs.

Meredith was in the midst of cleaning her room before she flew up to New York to meet Justin for the VMAs. "Who is it?" she called out while throwing dirty laundry around to be cleaned.

"It's Justin!"

"OK!" she called back and picked up the line in her room. "Feed me Simore."

"Hey bear," he said with a laugh.

"What are you doing?" she asked. "I thought you told me that you had a meeting right now."

"I do," he said, "I'm taking a break because I wanted you to come up to New York and sing for Benny."

"What did you do?" she asked.

"Nothing," he said with an innocent tone that immediately meant that he'd done something bad. "Justin what did you do? And why does Benny wanna hear me sing?"

"Hold on a second, lemme put you on speakerphone."

"Hey Meredith."

"Lynn?"

"Yeah honey."

"What's going on?"

"Well," another male voice said, "We have this party this wee...We want to hire you for the event."

"Hire me?" she joked, "Hire me to do what?"

"Sing," Benny said, "I heard your demo and I love--"

"Demo?" she asked, "Justin what did you do?"

"I gave him the tape of you singing."

"Damn it Justin," she sighed, "You told me you weren't going to do that."

"Yeah well I lied," he said.

"Honey, I was wondering if I can get your permission to act as your manager for the moment," Lynn asked.

"Manager?" Meredith asked.

"Yeah," she said, "I want to have the right to sign this contract saying that you'll sing two songs tomorrow at the party."

"Tomorrow night?"

"Bear Benny and Jive want to hire you to sing at their label tomorrow night and Benny said that if you do well tomorrow night they're thinking about offering you a contract."

"What?"

"We've got a few songs we're looking at for some up coming soundtracks and from what I can tell you'd be perfect for them."

"What?"

"Meredith stop saying what already so we can get this contract signed and get things rolling."

"I guess," she said.

"It's a yes or no question," Lynn said.

"Yes,"

"Good," Lynn said, "I'll call your parents while you're on the plane and explain everything...sound good?"

"Yeah," Meredith said.

"You'll thank me later," Justin bragged.

"I'm not sure of that right now, because I don't know what I've just gotten myself into, but I hope that you didn't lead me into a trap."

"Never sweetie, never."

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

 

Lynn stirred the pot again then gave her a smile, "This should be done soon, would you mind going to get Justin so we can eat?"

Meredith didn't want to, but after the invite to dinner and her need for a peaceful evening she pushed herself away from the breakfast bar counter and moved out of the kitchen and to the second floor without need of directions. She'd spent so much time in their home that she didn't need directions.

In the darkened hallway she heard his voice on the phone. His door was partially open and in the glow of the room she saw him lying on his bed wearing just a towel.

 

 

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