Spirit of Steel 11


Seven months.  It didn't seem that long and yet at the same time it seemed like it had been seven years instead of seven months.

His breath caught in his throat as he entered the building.  He really didn’t know what he was doing there.  He hadn’t been invited—no one even knew that he was even going to be there until that morning when he’d canceled his plans to go to a Denver Nuggets game and come here instead.  He pulled his hat down over his eyes and made sure that the hood was up and covering him.  He looked insane right now walking into the gym bundled up like an Eskimo, but it was what he had to do to see her and he’d put it off for way too long.

Pre-tour prep-time too long, three fourths of a tour too long.  Seven months too long.

It was as simple as that.  He’d said that he’d had to leave town for a few days.  He'd meant it at the time, but job commitments had kept him in Florida longer than he'd wanted and instead of coming back home he'd been shipped off to New York then Los Angeles and by the time he'd gotten a chance to take a breath it had been too long since he'd spoken with her.  Maybe he'd been a little presumptuous to think that she wouldn't want to talk to him, but her reaction when he'd left hadn't caused him to think that she'd be devastated if he'd left town.  She’d said ok and there wasn't much more he could say to her about it.

Now it was winter and he was in Colorado on tour.  A stop in Utah in the snow had caused him to think about his next stop in Denver and when he'd called home to see if Carolina was up to traveling out to Colorado to see him, he'd found out from his mother that she was at the training center in Colorado Springs and that she’d be in town the weekend that he was going to be playing three shows in Denver.

He’d been out of his mind to cancel his day off.  Those were precious in his schedule and he didn't even have a clue if she'd want to see him.  He'd taken the risk though, leaving town to go south to come down to Colorado Springs, but two hours after he’d woken up that morning he’d been on the road with a security detail on his heels trying to fit in at a fencing meet.

“Can I help you?” an older woman said approaching him.

Justin pushed his hood back off his head and smiled.  He realized from the look on her face that he must have looked like the Unabomber or something strange like that, walking in there looking really like he didn’t want to be seen.  “I was wondering if you could tell me where Carolina—“

“Carolina is down on the competition floor right now.”  The woman looked at her clipboard and nodded then looked up at him.  “Was she expecting you?”

“NO,” he said softly, “I’m a friend of hers from Tennessee and I was in town and thought I’d stop by.”  He looked at his watch.  “I don’t have much time though.  I’m in between—meetings.  Do you know where there might be a break so I might be able to talk to her?”

“Lunch break is around noon,” the woman explained.  “If you want you can watch from the balcony through those doors.”

“Thanks,” Justin said then flipped his hood back up and shivered for effect, “It’s cold in here.”

“Yeah,” she said giving him a slight look before she continued, “Being from Tennessee I’m sure it’s a little warmer down there right now plus this whole place is just one big slab of concrete.  When Carolina came back from her surgery we were all worried that she’d want to go back down south due to the weather starting to turn cold up here.”

“I know how that goes,” Justin said, “I’ve got a house in Florida that needs visiting just about this time every year.”  He bit his tongue and walked over to the edge of the balcony.

The gym they were having their match in had two levels.  The bottom flooring looked like five basketball courts lined up side by side, except there weren’t any court lines on it.  There were just long runways of carpeting and people milling around at each end.

“Have you been to a fencing match before?”

“No ma’am.”  He smiled when she noticed he’d called her ma’am.  “Carolina never really got around to explaining her sport.  She was still in her cast so she wasn’t in the mood to talk about—“

The woman nodded, “I’m Metta Thompson.”

“Justin Timberlake,” he said softly reaching to shake her hand.  He leaned, "This is Butch.  My--my friend."

She smiled at his security guy and shook his hand too.  "Nice to meet you."

This was almost a little too comfortable.  It should have been harder than this.  He'd thought about it almost every night since he'd left Millington and had imagined it being a lot harder to step into her world that it really was.  He'd thought that he'd have to sneak in the back and scam his way to get to meet her, but from the look on Metta's face she might just walk him right up to Carolina and maybe even smooth over the gap between them if he played his cards right.

“It looks pretty confusing doesn’t it?”

“A bit,” he said wondering if she'd thought that his thoughtful face was because he was confused about fencing, “I’m used to team sports like basketball.”

“The main object of a fencing bout is to effectively score 15 points on your opponent before he or she scores that number on you."  She pointed to the scoreboard and the timer.  "Each time a fencer scores a touch, she receives a point.”

He nodded and watched two people take their positions.  He didn’t see Carolina down on the floor but it seemed as if everyone looked the same in their uniforms.

“Points are scored with the tip of the blade and must land within the torso of the body.  The fencer wears a body cord—“  She stopped and pointed to the cord that was coming out from behind each person in the match.  “When the foil hits their vest it sends a signal to the scoring machine.”

“Looks a bit like how flag football works,” he said, “Pull off a flag and you’re out.”

“Something like that,” she said and leaned against the railing.

They watched for a few moments before he started to get a bit nervous.  He hadn’t seen her yet and was wondering if he was wasting his time by being there.

“There she is,” Metta pointed towards the far end of the gym and he squinted his eyes to see her.

She was coming through the door into the gym wearing a navy blue wind suit.  He couldn’t see her feet really due to the people around her, but she was moving slowly and talking to a few people around her.

“Is she competing today?”

“There is a by for her this week and some of the other girls.”  Metta smiled widely and touched his shoulder pulling him away from where he was staring at her.  She looked professional, amazing even.  “She’s actually here doing a report for Fox Sports.”

His head whipped around “For Fox Sports?”

“Yeah,” Metta explained, “Everyone here is tickled for her.  While she was in the hospital she wrote a bunch of articles for the US Fencing Organization on injuries and rehabilitation methods and someone saw the articles, passed them onto the Olympic Committee and they nominated her to be the spokesperson for the Olympic Team.”

“Wow.”  He was impressed.  She’d mentioned that she was interested in that type of stuff, but had never seemed extremely interested in it.  She’d talked about her friends wanting to do it, but never came out and said that’s what she was interested in.  “She’s her own little celebrity now.”

"You could say that."  She smiled, "With that and her boyfriend--"

"Boyfriend?"

"Jay," she explained, "He's not in Colorado, but she said it's because he's a busy guy--some--"

"You know what?" he said looking at his watch, "I should head out and get to my meeting.  I didn't plan enough time for me to wait around for her and I have business to attend to--"

He was about to leave when he saw her pull something from her bag.  She pulled out the small teddy bear dressed like the cat burglar and kissed it's nose before setting it on the bench.  It shocked him to see the gift that he'd given her.  The teddy bear looked to be in good condition as if she'd set it aside and not touched it for the last few months.

"Does she know how to contact you?" Metta asked.

"Strange relationships are my forte," he mumbled then straightened his back before he leaned against the railing again.  "Actually I think I'll wait a minute and see--I think I can spare another few minutes."


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