Spirit of Steel 5


"Hey there."

"Hey."  She glanced up at him for only a moment, over the top of the car, as she pulled her gym bag out and closed the door.  Justin was standing there wearing shorts and a wife-beater.  He looked as if he'd been sitting out that day and was smiling at her from under sunglasses that looked to be more for some fast paced skier than some young pop star.  She smiled for only a moment until she realized that there was a definite agenda on his mind, she could see the look on his face, even with his sunglasses hiding his eyes.

"You doing anything tonight?" he asked swinging his foot as he leaned against his crutches.  She noticed the way his arms had gotten a bit more toned now that he was using his arms so much with the crutches.  Even in the few days that he'd been home she could tell the difference.  His face remained serious.

"Ummm..." She swung her bag over her shoulder and tried to not get too nervous about him asking her about later.  Of course they'd be able to hang out together, but this approach made it seem as if things were more serious between them than they really were.  "I don't think I had anything planned."

He hopped a foot closer.  His tongue darted out and licked his lips, something that she normally wouldn't have noticed, but for some reason she couldn't help but to stare at.  "Want me to carry that for you?"

"As much as--"  She smiled and scratched her forehead and tried not to laugh at him too hard, "Thanks for the offer, but--"  She motioned to him with her hand.  "You can barely carry yourself around right now, but thanks for asking."

His eyes fell to his feet then moved back up to her face before he stared over her shoulder and nervously shrugged.  "Yeah.  I always forget about that."

She saw a nervous look come over his face and waited patiently to see if he would say anything more.  He looked a little depressed all of a sudden with the reminder about his injury.  She knew where he was in his line of healing and she knew the frustration he must be feeling.  She wanted to talk to him about it, but knew it wasn't a subject she wanted to touch on for the moment, not for his sake, but for her own.  It had been a long day at Rehab and talking about her foot wasn't going to make her evening any better.

"Soo," she said drawing the word out to fill the silence.  "You were asking about tonight?"

"Oh," he said and seemed to be jolted back into the present.  He reached up and scratched his chin, "Want to head back into Memphis and catch a Grizzly's game with me?"

She shrugged.  "I'm not that into basketball."

Her hands began to sweat and she willed them to stop.  She wasn't about to get all girlie over a guy, especially him.  It would be feeding into everything that she had figured out that she hated about him.  Strip away the ego and the persona known as JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE and he really was a great guy.  "I'd hate for you to waste a ticket on me."

"No," he said, "Not at all.  A few of us are going to go.  Trayce, JC and I are going to catch a game.  We'll have security with us so I figure you'll round it off as a nice sixth addition to the crew."

"The crew?"

"Nothing formal," he said, "Just a few beers and a game."

She cringed a little at the thought of being out and about with him and his friends.  In her past everyone changed when they were in their normal environment.  Hanging around a few other guys and him didn't seem like the best thing.  "Sounds like something that I'd be crashing in on."

"Not at all," he said, "We've got open seats on...on the floor...no big thing."

"I need a shower," she said.

She saw his eyes scan her body and wanted to say something, but he must have realized she was going to get offended and cut her off before she could get a sentence together.

"You have time.  The game starts at seven and we were going to head out around five and grab dinner before the game starts," he said, "Plus we have to grab JC from his hotel.  Trayce is on his way over right now to watch a movie so it'll be at least an hour and a half if not two hours before we leave.  There's time for you to do whatever."

She could see the determined look on his face and knew that no matter what she said, he was going to bug her about this so she finally thought that she'd just let herself take a chance and go with the flow for once.  "Well let me go grab a shower, get cleaned up and see what my parents are up to then see if I can be away for a few hours and have them not miss me too much."

"Just come on over before five if you want to go.  I'm having a car drive us into the city so I don't have to worry about parking and my foot and all so just bring your ID and whatever you need--"  He smiled.

She nodded and wanted to escape, not to get ready for the evening, but more to get away from the stare that he was giving her.  He looked at her like a piece of meat most of the time and while it was a flattering thought to know that he might find her attractive, she didn't like him standing there actually doing it.  "Ok."

"Jeans and T-shirt--"  She didn't like the sly look in his eyes.  He was too cocky most of the time, looking so proud of himself, as if he should get a medal or something for reading her mind the slightest bit.   "In case you're wondering."

"Thanks," she said, "I'll see you in a while."

*****

It was two hours later when she came out of the house back into the heat of the early evening.  The sun was going down and she pulled her sunglasses from her small backpack and put them on.  She'd chosen to wear shorts and a t-shirt with a running shoe on her good foot.  She'd pulled her hair back in a pony tail and tied a sweatshirt around her waist and was trying to treat this as something very casual, but when she saw Justin come out of the house wearing a red velour track suit she knew that this trip was going to be the very opposite of casual or normal for that matter.

"Hey," he said, "You look nice."  His eyes weren't covered now and she could see his eyes move over her.

"Thanks," she said.  "You ready to go?"

"Yeah," he said, "The car should be here in a minute."

"Did Trayce end up coming over?"

"Yeah," his eyes squinted and he turned back towards the house, "He's coming out in a minute.  Wanted to pee in case we get stuck in traffic."

She nodded, "Good plan."

Silence hung in the air as they stood there.  She wanted to ask him why he was inviting her and not finding another one of his guy friends to go with them, but couldn't get the words out.

"You look nice," he said again.

"You said that already Justin," she said.

"Hey man.  Your mom says to call her if you go out after the game.  She said that she's not nagging, she just doesn't want to lock up the house and have you have to--"  Justin's friend stopped in his trek towards them.  "I'm sorry.  Didn't mean to interrupt."

"You were interrupting," Justin said.  "Trayce, this is Carolina.  Carolina.  Trayce."

"Nice to meet you," she said putting her hand out to shake his friend's hand.

"Nice to meet you too," he said with a smirk shaking her hand before he turned back towards the house.  "I'm gonna grab my backpack.  I'll be back."

"Backpack?" Carolina asked.

"He's a packrat," Justin said, "He's got phone, day planner, few comic books, extra sweatshirt.  Some of the guys call it his diaper bag when he comes on tour."

"Hmmm," Carolina said and smiled, "Sounds like an interesting one."

When the car pulled into the driveway Carolina turned towards it.  The black SUV came to a stop and the driver got out and a passenger came out of the car too.

"C man.  I thought you were going to meet us at the hotel."

"Little problem with that," the wiry guy that got out of the passenger seat said as he walked towards them, "Someone found out where I was staying so I packed up and I was hoping that I could crash at your house after the game before--"

Justin nodded.  "Sure sure."

There was a moment of silence that hung between everyone.

"Since this jerk isn't going to introduce me, I'm JC," he said holding out a hand.

"Carolina," she said and looked at Justin for a moment, "You're one of his band members, right?"

"Yeah," JC said, "I normally wouldn't be in Tennessee, but I thought I'd come and see what the gimp was up to."

"He's been sitting on his butt from what I can tell," she said with a laugh.

"Hey now.  It's not like I can get out and do much."

Trayce returned to the group nosily, "C!"

"Hey man.  What's up?"

"Nothing," Trayce said, "You ready for the game?"

JC rocked back on his heels and stuck his hands in his pockets.  His lids lowered and when Carolina turned back to him he was watching her, "Yep."

She tried to ignore his stare, but it wasn't easy.

"We should get going," the driver of the SUV said.

She had to laugh when Justin rolled his eyes then started towards the car. "We're coming!"

Piling into the car took some planning.  When she started to get in, JC stopped her and offered to sit in the way back.  "Ken is back there and I'm not sure that you and your foot and him could fit back there.  He's huge, plus I'm not sure that you'd want to climb over the seat.

"Thanks," she said ignoring the remark about her foot.  If she'd known him well enough she would have smacked him or something for mentioning it, but since she was a guest and couldn't be totally herself she just climbed into the car to sit next to where Justin was sitting and trying to fit his crutches into the car.

Trayce climbed into the front seat so Carolina rolled down her window a little and let some air in as the boys started to talk.  She didn't have a clue where they were going or what they were doing for the evening, but it definitely was better than sitting at home.

*****

When they pulled into the back of the arena Carolina finally spoke.  She'd been almost half asleep, content to listen to the boys in the car talk about the teams that were playing that night and the plans they were making for the rest of the week, but when they didn't turn into the main entrance she felt a little bit of panic press on her chest.  "Where are we going?"

"The bat cave!" JC said with a laugh from the back seat.  She had thought that he was the more mature of the three younger men in the car, but clearly that was only until the excitement built about the evening, then he seemed to be letting loose.

"We go in the back--"  Justin said calmly as if it was every other day and being given special consideration about things was just a part of his day.

"These nerds get lost if we go through the front door," Trayce said from the front seat laughing.

"Seriously though," Justin said turning towards her, "Security is an issue when we come out here.  Nothing to be scared of or anything, but if we go anywhere in the arena the guys--"  He pointed back behind them then to the driver.  "--the guys will be going with us."

"Ok."

"It's not like we have kooties--"  JC started to speak.

Carolina started to laugh when Justin rolled his eyes and turned in his seat.  "Kooties Jace?  I thought we were trying to be cool today."

JC shrugged and started to pick at his fingernails.  "YOU were trying to be cool Justin-"  She watched him look down his nose at Justin, "-what's with the pimp outfit?"

Justin's hand whipped out and smacked at his friend and Carolina continued to laugh.

Trayce turned around in his seat some more.  "Why are you laughing so hard?"

"I'm sorry," she said trying to curb her laughter, "I just pictured you all in my head a different way and having the two of them go at it like a married couple wasn't really the personalities I thought I'd see out of them."

"You should see Chris," Trayce said with a laugh and turned back around, "He's the one you have to watch out for.  These guys are tame compared to them."

"I'd love to see that," she said.

"At least she didn't run away shreiking," JC said from the back seat.

"Don't even go there C," Justin said.

Carolina was still into the conversation until she realized the police force that was now approaching their car.

"Hey Pauly," the driver said as he rolled down the building.  "Where do you want me?"

"You can park in the normal spot," the guy Pauly said.

"How many you got there with you?"

"Six."

"Six what?" she asked moving to look out the window.  She didn't like the way all of this was happening around her.  When she was training or traveling before she always knew the plan of the day and flying blind really wasn't what she liked.

"Officers," Justin said and started to tap his foot.

"We need that many guys with us?"

"Don't get stressed out darlin'," he drawled, "They just make life easier."

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said and started to slide out of the car when Trayce hopped out and opened up the door for him.

"Where--what?"

"Come on this way," Justin said once he was out and standing on his good foot and crutches.  "JC will hop out after you."

The noise above them was insane and when she got out of the car she looked up to see at least a hundred young faces screaming down at them.  JC jumped out after her and nudged her on the back to get moving towards the opening where they were to go into the building.  "Don't worry about it girl," he said, "You'll be fine."

"Yeah," she said and tried to take it all in.

Inside the building it wasn't much better.  Everyone that they seemed to pass would stare or say something to Justin and the fact that he was moving fairly slowly on his crutches really didn't help the situation.


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