Spirit of Steel 12


The had gym felt different that morning when she walked in.  It had been really cold that morning and her ankle was giving her a little trouble, but after a soak in the whirlpool and a little stretching she'd been able to walk on it.  Of course it was going to be different because it was competition day, but there was something else that was bothering her that morning when she got up.  She woke up early, moved from the dorm into her office and worked on the last of the paperwork that needed to get done, then had gathered with the girls when they'd been getting ready for the meet.  It was a last minute decision to bring the teddy bear with her.  The girls had been bugging her about bringing him along as a mascot because they thought that the joke about it being a cat burglar bear was funning.

To shut them up she'd finally grabbed it.  It wasn't really because she thought she needed the thoughts of home to keep her spirits up, but because she thought she might need something to hold onto during the meet.  This was the first meet that she'd officially been at since before her first surgery.  She'd moved back to Colorado after the second surgery.  There wasn't much reason to stay in Millington.  Justin had left town and hadn't returned and staying there without him around she'd fallen into a short bought of depression.

It had started out slow enough, but almost two weeks later she'd basically stopped speaking to anyone and when Justin's mom had come over she'd made it clear that she didn't want visitors.  Lynn had been very understanding and had left her alone, leaving a note for her with Justin's numbers on them in case she felt up to calling him.

Justin's numbers sat on her dresser for the next few weeks.  It was her old coach's visit about a month after the surgery that had pulled her out of her funk.  She'd brought along some of the younger team that were on their way to a meet in Florida and had encouraged her to get back into things.  So she'd started to write and she wrote and researched and did her rehab and now seven months later she had a job with Fox Sports and was back in Colorado and walking on her own again.

"Are you sure?"

She looked up and saw two of the girls huddled together talking and pointing up towards the crowd.  It was common for other teams to visit the gym to watch other events and it had been rumored that Lance Armstrong was in town to train in the high country before the real snow came in, but no one had seen him.

"I think that's him."

She turned away from where she was stretching her leg and looked up.  She didn't see Lance, but she swore for a moment that she'd seen Justin standing near Metta talking.  When she walked around to get a better look though he was gone.  She sighed and went back to her work.  She was really going to need to get counseling if she kept seeing him like this.  She had thought that she'd seen him in the airport in Denver when she'd arrived back in Colorado and had been day dreaming every so often and had thought she'd seen him playing basketball in the gym or working out in the afternoons.

*****

Her back and arms and legs all were throbbing.  Her ankle was doing ok for the moment, but she knew she'd have to soak it in the morning and maybe throw some ice on it tonight when she got home.  It had been a long day and she needed a rest, not only from the activities of the day, but from the people around her.  It had been overwhelming to be welcomed back that way.  It was a bitter sweet reunion, like coming  back to school after a huge summer break.  Everyone seemed to be in the same place and yet so different.

"One more," she mumbled to herself and grabbed up the last of her things.

She needed peace and quiet and a few hours on the couch to recover from it all.

"Congratulations."

She jumped at the sound of the voice thinking that everyone had gone home.  She should have been shocked to hear it, but after the results of that day she was starting to get used to hearing that word again.  That day had been amazing.  Everyone had been amazing and her day had gone smoothly and she'd expected yet another team member to be standing there congratulating her.  People had come out of the woodwork that day to see her and it was all amazing.  The one person though that she didn't expect was the one person that she saw when she turned around.  Luckily the hall was empty or she would have really made a fool of herself.  "Jesus."

"Justin," he said with a smirk watching her bags fall from her hands.  He reached out with one hand, but his other hand was occupied at the moment.  "But close."  He held out a red rose to her.  "I'll get the bags if you grab this."

She took the flower from him not because she really wanted it, but because he was throwing it at her and she basically had to take it or it would fall on the ground.  She instantly felt as if she was going to throw up.  Her eyes wouldn't blink and her heart had seriously stopped there for a moment as she tried to take in the scene before her.  This wasn't happening.  This was just another one of her stupid day dreams and a moment from now someone would tap her on the shoulder and wake her up and she'd realize that she was dazed and confused and out in public and probably making a fool of herself.  "Justin."

"You've still got him," Justin said handing her back the teddy bear that he'd given her months before.  "And you've dropped him on the floor again."  He brushed off the top of it's head after he'd placed the bear in her arms.  "I really should be insulted, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt."

"I didn't--"

"It's ok," he said and seemed too casual about it, as if it was perfectly normal for him to be there.

"What are you doing here?" she finally said waking from her daze.  It finally sunk in that he was there standing in front of her.  Why was he here?  She hadn't heard from him in months and while she should be very understanding of his schedule she had thought that he'd at least have stuck around.  He seemed so sincere when she'd woken up from her surgery.

She wanted to be angry, needed to be angry, but just looking at him melted her.  She was trying to be strong, but seeing him was ruining her plan.  She grabbed her bag from him when he offered it and stuffed the bear inside.  "What--"

His hands retreated to his pockets and his chin dipped a little so that his eyes wouldn't meet hers.  Maybe he did realize how much she'd been hurt by his disappearance from her life.  She hadn't meant to make it more dramatic than it should have been, but it was really going to be a challange to be around him outside of the city limits of Millington.

"I'm playing Denver the next three nights and your mom told my mom that you were out here so I thought if I was out this way that I should stop in."

She caught her breath and stared.  She knew it probably wasn't as complicated as it sounded, but the fact that he'd come down from Denver to see her really floored her, especially after all this time.  She'd sort of written him off.  She'd thought about him, of course.  She'd hoped that she might catch him in Millington at Christmas, but it didn't seem to be in the works knowing that she'd be traveling for the holidays and probably would only be home overnight or two nights if she got lucky.

His face scrunched up into a frown and sighed.  Being seen, for him was something he didn't want or at least today it seemed to be the opposite of the reaction she would have expected.  "I know it's short notice and that you probably are pissed off at me, but--"

"I'm not pissed off," she heard  herself saying, "I'm disappointed, but not pissed off."

"Either way," he said softly, "Will you come up to Denver and catch a show and maybe hang out with me for a few hours?  I know it's asking a lot, but I really would like to spend some time with you despite my behavior over the last few months."

"I don't know," she said.  SHe had things to do but they could wait.  SHe didn't want to just jump back into things with him without being careful about things this time, "I've got things to train for."

"Oh."  His expression fell.

"Look," she said, "If I can get into Denver by tomorrow night I'll try and catch the show, but I've just started back to--"

"I understand totally," he said and she saw the change in him.  His shoulders tensed and she started to back away from her as if he was going to turn and run away right then."

"Justin wait," she caught him by the arm.  "When do you have to be back in Denver?"

He looked at his watch, "I've got a pre-party thing I need to be at in about three hours."

"When do you want me in Denver?" she asked confidently.

His words were rushed when he answered.  "I can send a car down for you tomorrow if you want."

Taking a deep breath she tried to keep herself calm.  "How long do you want me to stay?"

His shoulders rose and fell and his face stayed in a pinched expression.  He truly wasn't sure of himself.  "If you want you can spend the next three days with me--if you want to leave after tomorrow night's show--I can do that too.  I just want to spend some time with you."

Her heart broke at the tone of his voice and the sincere look in his eyes.

"I'd like that."

*****

When he finally told her that he had to go she let him with the promise that he didn't need to send a car and that she would be up to Denver to his hotel around lunch time which was agree upon after he told her he needed to do some promotional work in the morning.

"When you get there call--"  He looked at her.  "Do you have a pen?"

She pulled one out of her bag and handed him a piece of paper.  "Call Trayce's number.  He'll know where I'm at."

"Shouldn't I call you?"

"I turn off my phone when I'm in interviews.  People get pissy about the phone ringing when I'm being interviewed."

"I know how that goes," she said, "I hate when people I interview are dodging phone calls."

"Who've you interviewed?"

She didn't want to be too obvious about it, but she needed a little recovery time and was sure that he probably needed to be somewhere.  "Don't you have to go?"

He looked at his watch again.  "Yeah," he said, "Yeah I do."


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