Spirit of Steel 3

Two days passed before they saw each other.  When they had pulled back up to the house the night they went to the Bait Shop Justin's mother was on the front porch and his grandmother was at her side so Justin basically ignored Carolina other than to say thanks for the ride.  She couldn't be angry knowing that both the women in his life were probably just upset that he'd hadn't left a note.

She'd arrived home to find her parents there.  They asked her if she'd had fun while she was gone and after hanging out with them for a bit she'd gone to bed.

The next day had been spent in the gym at University of Memphis with her dad working out what of her body that she could.  She'd driven with him to work and had stayed to watch some of the practice soccer game that her father had been assigned to watch.  They'd gotten home late and while she thought she should go over and apologize for ditching Justin for the day, but found out a little while later when she'd been in the kitchen that his friends had been over that day and they'd ended up staying late into the night in the backyard playing cards from the sound of it.

The next day she'd gone into town with her mother to shop and had gone to sleep early that night.


"Hey there neighbor."  She looked up from her book to find him standing there in swim trunks and otherwise naked other than his leg brace and crutches.

She smiled at his progress, but she saw the recognition on his face and knew immediately that he probably thought that he was thinking she was flirting.  "You look like you've got a better handle on those crutches these days."

"Yeah," he said squinting down at her due to the sun, "I don't want to get too comfortable on them though."

"You won't," she said and looked down at her book again knowing that it would get to him.  She'd pegged him early on as being one of those fraternity guy types you needs a woman to fawn all over him so that he can feel like a man.  As many times as she'd heard from his family about how generous and genuine a person he was, all she'd seen of him so far other than the short conversation he'd had with his grandfather, was that he was the typical man's man when it came to women.

He cleared his throat and waiting until she looked at him again before he spoke, "I was gonna throw in a movie and pop some popcorn if you want to come over."

She wanted to laugh at the way that he was looking so nervous again.  He probably didn't know how to deal with a girl who didn't jump at every word that he said.  "What are you going to watch?" she asked trying not to laugh at how his eyes lit up when she suggested that they would be able to hang out together that afternoon.

"I don't know," he said and turned towards the house.

While he was looking the other way she checked out his tattoos.  He had a few on his legs and she could see the one on his shoulder.  She'd never dated a man with a tattoo before and was kind of intrigued by the thought of being about to hang out with him and "date" him when he was home.

"I've got probably a hundred movies over there and couldn't decide what to watch so--"  He looked back at her with nervousness in his eyes, "I thought maybe you could help me pick one out."

"Really?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said, "Is that so hard?"

"Well it depends," she said and got to her feet, leaving her book underneath the chair, "If it's all guy blow em up movies we may brawl, but if you happened to have included at least one slightly girlie movie in your collection then it won't be."

"For a minute there I thought you were going to say to go screw myself."

"I was," she said, "But then the thought of you over next door by yourself actually trying to do that started to make me want to throw up."

He laughed a little and watched her walking.  "You ok?"

"Yeah," she said and tried to walk a little more normal.

"You're limping," he said sounding more concerned than she thought he would have.

"It's rehab," she said, "Yesterday was my tough day of the week.  I did pool work and put a little stress on it."

She had been trying to hide the limp all day and had done really good job of hiding it from her mother, but Justin must have been paying closer attention to her than her mother.  "You sure you're ok?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said and moved around a little, jumping like a boxer a bit on her good foot only touching her toes to the ground lightly, "Come on.  It's getting hot out here and my foot probably need to be put up."

"Mine too," he said.  She could see the signs of slight depression setting in.  He was sighing more and there was no way in the world that a twenty two year old guy who sang and danced for a living would be almost out of breath just walking in between the houses, "My toes are turning red."

"So what'd you do yesterday?" she asked as they walked next door.

"Sat around bored off my ass," he said with a laugh.  "It's amazing to be pissed about that.  My friends came over around dinner time, but for most of the day I sat and iced my foot and played Halo."


"Do you know how many days I would have begged for a day like yesterday--to have no plans, no reason to even get out of bed?"

"That great?" she asked.

He nodded, "I thought you might come over, but my mom said that she saw you leave and go to work with your dad."

"So if I'm not around you sit and waste away?"

"No," he said with the right amount of defensiveness, "I had phone interviews to do and I watched movies and stuff, but yeah, I did it without anyone else around."  He swung his foot a little, "I found out that playing cards and drinking beers with the guys is my new passion.  I feel like a bum though now."

"So you don't feel that way today?" she asked.

"Nope," he said, "I thought you'd be good company since the both of us are into the whole one legged look these days."

"Aweee," she turned around and walked backwards watching him.  "I get it."

"Get what?"

"Let me guess," she said, "You and your boys are big into sports and running around and I would say dancing and all that...right?"

"Yeah."  He nodded his chin upwards, "Watch your step."

"I am," she said and looked back to make sure she wouldn't trip when they got to the tree line.

"So anyway," she said, "You didn't want to be the little kid left on the sidelines so you told them not to come over."  She nodded to confirm her suspicions.  "You probably shouldn't be that transparent."

"Transparent?" he said, "What are you getting at?"

"Well," she said, "If they were your friends you should have just told them that you didn't want to hang out with them because you didn't want--"  Her foot hit something and she fell onto her butt, knocking her back against the decking of Justin's house which caused her foot to come down and her bad heel hit into the ground.

"I told you to watch yourself," he said and looked down at her, "Are you ok?"

"Yeah," she said and tried not to wince when she got up.

"Are you--"

"I'm fine," she snapped and got to her feet. Falling in itself was dumb enough, but actually having him try to help her up in his condition was pure comedy.  She knew she should give him the benefit of the doubt, but at the moment her pride was hurt more than her foot.  "Are you ok to get up the steps?"

"Yeah," he said, "I'm getting good at this.  Even can get through the door on my own without falling on my face."

They entered the house and Justin made his way into the kitchen.  Leaning his crutches up against the counter he bounced around for a moment to get out some microwave popcorn then grabbed a bowl while it was in the microwave cooking.

"You ok doing that?"

"Yeah," he said, "I can hop around the kitchen pretty good...it's outside that messes me up."

"Oh."  She watched his back as he moved around the small room getting everything that they would need for their movie watching experience.

"You want butter?" he asked.

"No," she said and leaned against the counter trying not to let the dull ache in her ankle bother her.  She probably should have gone home and soaked her foot or something, but the chance to hang out with Justin instead of being home with her parents drew her across the way instead of going home.

When she looked up he was standing there watching her, "Are you sure your ankle is ok?"

"It's fine," she said and looked at the pictures on the far wall.

"It doesn't seem fine," he said.

"Can we please talk about something other than our feet?"  As she talked she went across to the wall of pictures and looked at few of the younger ones of him, then saw a few of him with state limit signs.  He was pictured with a Florida one, a Tennessee one and a California one.  "You know I would have thought that a guy like you would have more interesting things to talk about than feet."

"A guy like me?" he asked.

"Like I don't know who you are and that you're a rock star and all that--" she rolled her eyes, "You've been to all fifty states and probably a million and one countries.  There has to be something that you can talk about."

"There are sooo many things--" he said with a laugh.  "So what do you want to talk about?"

"I don't know," she said, "What was the last movie that you saw?"

Justin smiled, "I went to see Matrix Reloaded when it was still in post production."

The words post production rolled off his lips and she saw the sparkle in his eyes.  She knew that he was a creative person, but the pull of that post production comment really showed where his heart was.  "Really?"

"Yeah," he said, "I saw some of the production reels.  My neighbor is their sound editor so I got to slip into the studio one day with him and see the clips when he was working on them."

She smiled at him.  She didn't want to feed into that whole bragging thing, but she wanted him to know that she was interested.  "That's neat."

He frowned at her less than enthused answer, "What about you?"

"In the movie theater?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said, "Or on tv or whatever."

"I was supposed to go see THE RING,"  she had been on a long weekend with her friends and had taken the luxury to actually go to the movies and not go to bed on time, "but got too scared to go and went and saw Blue Crush instead."

His eyes lifted at that answer, "The chick surfing movie?"

She rolled her eyes and leaned more onto the counter.  "Yes Justin the CHICK surfing movie."

"Ok," Justin said, "Don't use the word chick around Carolina."

The alarm went off on the microwave and Justin pulled the bag of popcorn out and dropped it into a bowl.

"The tv is upstairs, think you can carry this and some cokes upstairs for us?"

"So that's why you got me over here to watch movies...because you couldn't bring the food up the stairs without my help."

"Yeah," he said with a sarcastic tone, "Definitely."  He laughed a little and went to collect his crutches.  "The cokes are on the bottom shelf.  Just grab me whatever you're going to grab for yourself."



When they reached the second floor Carolina was a little glad to find that they were going to be watching television in the loft area overlooking the downstairs living room.  She could already see the evidence of Justin camping out in front of the television.  There were three or four blankets and a stack of pillows, a few cereal bowls and coke cans sitting around.

“Did you have your own little party?”

“Yeah,” he said, “I couldn’t sleep last night so I stayed out here and made a mess for myself.”

“I thought you couldn’t carry anything because of the crutches.”

“I can’t,” he said almost defensively.  “My mom took pity on me and brought me a box of cereal and bowls and stuff so I sat up here all night and ate cereal.”

Her eyes scanned the room and landed on the Lion King pillow case that was sticking out from under one of the blankets.  Her laugh couldn’t be contained.

“What?” he asked.

“The Lion King?” she asked.

“It’s my little brothers,” he said, “They came over yesterday for a little bit and Steven—the younger one—thought that I needed a good pillow to sleep with so he brought me his.”

“That’s cute.”

“That’s Steven for you,” he said and moved around her to put his crutches down.  His hands immediately reached for the dishes and he started to clean.

“Look,” she said, “I’ll take the dishes down to the kitchen and you get the movie.”

“You don’t have to do that,” he said.

“Yes I do,” she took the plates from his hand, “You may be able to live in a sty, but I can’t.”

“It’s not that bad,” he said.

“Yeah,” she said, “You are.”  She laughed a little and punched his shoulder playfully which of course threw him off balance and made her almost drop the dishes when he grabbed onto her arm for balance.


“Sorry about that,” he said, “I’m still working on that whole balance thing.”

“Well,” she said, “While you work on it more, I’m gonna take these downstairs.”

“Thanks Carolina,” he said.

“No trouble.”

“I mean for more than just taking the dishes downstairs.”

She nodded, not wanting really to know what else he might be talking about and took the dishes down to the first floor and set them in the sink.  On the way back up she looked at the pictures on the walls.  Most of them were family pictures and then at a certain point on the stairs she saw pictures of Justin with his friends and then there was a section with his band mates also.

“You’ll have to meet them some time,” Justin said from the top of the stairs.

She looked up the stairs at him and found a strangely peaceful look on his face, one that she hadn’t seen on him before.  “Who?”

“All the guys,” he winked at her, “And Trayce and the local boys too.”

“I’m sure one day I will,” she said, “It’s not like I’m moving any time soon and I’m sure your grandparents and parents will be here forever anyway.”

“Yeah,” he said.

“So what movie did you pick?” she asked.

“Spiderman?”   He didn’t sound too sure of himself.


“I figure it’s got action for me and girliness for you.  Tobey McGuire is a hottie from what I’ve heard.”

Girliness and hottie?” she laughed, “I’m not sure if I should be flattered that you thought of me when you picked the movie or if I should be worried because you picked it for that reason.”

“Come on and watch the movie,” he said and turned and hobbled his way over to the couch.  He moved the coffee table into position and put his foot up then moved the pillows around for a moment.  “Want to put your foot up too?”

“Sure,” she said as she sat down.  She moved her leg and found herself looking like his twin as she moved the pillows around a bit and leaned to reach for the popcorn that he set in between them.

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