Spirit of Steel 16


His breathy voice against her skin the next morning woke her from her sleep, but she wasn't fully aware of what was going on until another voice somewhere above her cut through her dreams.  "You gotta get up man."

"Yeah," she heard his voice and felt his lips against her neck, "In a second.  Get the hell out of here so I can get ready."

"Are you sure you aren't going to fall back asleep?"

Again his lips moved against her skin, causing goose bumps to raise on her arms and made her neck curl towards her shoulder to move him away from her ticklish spot.  He pressed a kiss to her skin then moved back.  He pulled his arm slightly out from under the pillow then stopped and removed the one that was curled around her stomach.  He carefully moved the pillow so that her head wasn't jostled too much and she felt him sit up.  Now only his voice was near her instead of having his lips against her body.  It caused a shiver to run up her spin as the cooler air of the room found it's way under the covers.  "Come back in fifteen minutes just to make sure."

"Fine," the other voice said and then footsteps headed towards the door to the hallway and opened and shut.

"Fuck," Justin breathed out.  He sat on the bed and moved the covers around a bit, she could feel the air against her and the movement of the sheets. She guessed that he was stretching from the small groans she heard and the movement of the mattress.

After a few moments she felt him tucking the sheets back up against her.  His hand moved to her upper arm to pat her there then she felt his lips pressed against her shoulder in a soft kiss before he pulled away and the bed moved as he got up and walked towards the bathroom.  The door shut as quietly as he could probably shut it and she rolled over onto her other side and put her hand out to the sheets.  They were still warm and the pillow behind her head smelled of him.

Her eyes slid closed again and she listened to him turn on the shower.  He was quick about it, she suspected that it was less than a fifteen minute trip into the bathroom all together.  She only felt a little strange about listening to him pee before he came back out, but other than that, she had fun for those fifteen minutes picturing him in there going through his morning routine.

The sound of the door opening again made her freeze.  She turned her eyes towards the window of the room hoping that he wouldn't think she'd been staring at the back of the door for the last few minutes thinking dirty thoughts about him in the shower.

"Hey," he said in a horse whisper.  He coughed, "Sorry."  He swallowed, "You didn't get woken up when Trayce came in, did you?"

"Oh my god," she instantly sat up when his voice sounded like a frog.  "Your voice."

"It'll go away in a minute," he said then coughed, "The hot shower does it every time.  I just need some tea and lemon to clear it out.  It's from screaming a little too much last night and singing and stuff."  He cleared his throat.  "The smoke and stuff from stage gets me and the club last night probably didn't help."

"Are you sure?"

He nodded and smiled at her, "I'll be fine."  He moved across the room and grabbed out clothes and it was then when she realized that he had come out dressed only in a towel.  She watched him move around the room in his comfortable manner.  She hadn't seen him not be on crutches and found his walk to be smooth, almost calculated, as if he knew the way he walked did something to make a girl's heart stop beating.

"I've gotta run off to a mass phone press conference call in a few minutes, but you can stay here and order room service for breakfast or maybe Trayce can go down and sit with you."  He looked at the clock as he pulled on boxers up and underneath his towel then removed the towel and dropped it over the back of a chair.  His arms worked quickly to pull on a white wife beater and he stood there over his suitcase for only a second thinking maybe of what he wanted to wear.  He reached for a red shirt then put it back and grabbed up a white long sleeved t-shirt.  It looked to be fifteen or so sizes too big, but when he pulled on his jeans and turned around to buckle his belt she saw that the outfit suited him.  "I've gotta be over at sound check by three, nothing big today since the system is all set up, but I've got an Meet and Greet to get through--"

She nodded at his rambling speech.  He had so many things going on all of a sudden and ran over them as if it wasn't a big deal.  The words press conference and meet and greet and sound check rolled off his tongue as easy as trainer, practice, and weight room ran off hers.

He took a deep breath, "It's overwhelming you."  He came to sit down on the edge of the bed, grabbing socks as he came and sat down to put them on.  "It's really not that bad."

She nodded,  "I know how a busy schedule can seem so complicated.  What time will you be back?"

"Lunchtime?" he said with a squint, "I think.  We can grab something downstairs."

"Ok," she said.

"After that I have some things to do at the arena.  You can stay here until show time, but it's probably easier for you to come out there with me.  You can hang out in the bus and watch a movie or take a nap or something if you want."

She nodded again not sure how easily she could structure her day around his.  She needed to work out.  Just because he was back in her life now didn't mean that she was going to become a bum about it.  "Do you think I could get some time to practice?"

"Practice?"

"I've got my foil in my car--" she said, "I'm still working on getting my stance back."

"I thought you said that you were just coaching now," he said leaning to put on his other sock.  When he sat straight up again, she instantly saw worry in his eyes.

"Not for competition's sake, but for demonstrative purposes."  She sighed, "I basically have to train like I'm going to be in competition.  I have to do everything the girls that I coach do."

"Sure," he said and thought for a moment, "You can use the gym here of course, I don't know where there might be space for you at the venue.  Maybe out in the back area where the buses. Usually that place is pretty quiet when I'm already inside.  No one will bother you out there if you need some practice time."

She almost bounced with anticipation  "Really?"  She thought for a moment.  "It might be too cold."

"You can always use my dressing room.  I don't know how much space you need, but the one here is pretty big, about thirty feet by about twenty feet."

She nodded, "You won't need the space?"

"Nope," he said, "I'll be running around in circles for most of the day."  He got up and walked across to get his shoes then came back to sit down next to her.  "Grab your foil and have it here so when I come back for lunch we can eat and go."  He stopped talking and leaned and kissed her, "I'm sorry I'm so rushed.  We'll have a good lunch and maybe even get some time to hang out later on during the day."

"I'll be here," she said and kissed him again, "Go on and go to work."

"Thanks," he said and leaned to pull on his shoes.  He tucked the laces in the side instead of tying them and almost as soon as he was sitting straight up again, there was a knock at the door.

He leaned and kissed her again then started to walk towards the door.  He turned around when he was almost to the door.  "There's a key on the dresser for you.  Don't lose it.  Security will have kittens if you do."

"Ok."  A smile crossed her face wondering what "having kittens" meant to Justin.  She'd seen the guys that had been around him the night before and she wondered what a temper tantrum out of them would be like.  She almost wanted to find out.

"Call my cell if you need anything."  He seemed nervous now.  She could see the way his hands were shaking a bit and his feet wouldn't sit still.  "Trayce will probably answer if I'm not around.  If you need anything else just charge it to the room, ok?"

She nodded.

"I'm sorry for disappearing this morning," he said, "And for before."

"It's ok," she said and tried not to concentrate on the other disappearing act that he'd performed a few months before.

*****

Carolina had been in the hotel room for a good half hour after getting dressed debating on what to do about locking up her room.  Of course the door locked when she let it close, but she wasn't sure if there were any special instructions she needed since she was now technically on the road with the Justified/Stripped Tour.  She finally decided to go in search of someone to ask.  She remembered that there was a guard by the elevators so she went down the hall to him.

"Excuse me?" 

"Yes Darling'?" the huge man sitting in the lobby area near the elevators.

"I'm staying on this floor--"  She stopped when she saw a strange look wash over his face.  "Visiting.  And--"  She watched him nervously.  "Should I do anything special about the room I'm staying in?  I mean do they usually have people go in and clean up the rooms and all that?" she asked, "Or do I need to put the Do No Disturb hanger on there?"

"They've got instructions about how to go about cleaning the rooms," the guy said, "Just make sure that your stuff is off the bed so that they can make it and you know...treat it like a normal hotel room."

"Ok."  She sighed, "Thanks."

"First time out on the road visiting?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said softly, "There seem to be so many procedures on how to do things around here.  I just didn't want to mess up someone's day by doing the wrong thing."

"You're doing fine," he said with a smile.  She wasn't sure if he was normally this friendly, or maybe if the hours of sitting there basically alone made him a little more talkative than normal.

"I'm going to run down to my car," she said, "I've got the room key and everything...is that all I need?"

"Yeah," he said, "You're on Justin and Trayce's guest list, right?"

She bit her lip.  There hadn't really been any instructions given to her other than to make sure she had the room key.  It seemed very odd that things were running so smoothly around there, but from an outsider's inspection, there were many complexities of how Justin's world functioned around him.  "I'm not sure."

"Lemme check," he said.  He held up a phone to his mouth, but spoke into it as if it was a walkie talkie.  "Hey Mike?"

"Yeah," the voice said coming out of the phone.

His eyes roamed over her and he spoke carefully, "Does Justin have a--"

"Carolina--" She says and starts to say her last name, but she's cut off.

"Oh yeah," Mike, the voice on the phone says, "She's on here.  Just got a call from Trayce about her.  Full access to everything and call Justin or Trayce if she needs anything.  She giving you trouble?"  He laughed.

"Not at all," the guy at the door smiled. "She's new.  Didn't want to rock the boat."

"Should be fine," Mike said, "She need an itinerary?"

His eyes moved to her.  "Do you need one?"

She sighed.  This was all becoming too complicated.  The last thing she wanted to do was add to the chaos around her.  "An Itinerary?"

The guy blinked a few times as if he wasn't sure how to talk to her.  "The schedule of today's stuff."

"No, he's explained it to me and said to call him if I wanted to join him this afternoon before the show."  She wanted to leave.  This was taking absolutely too much time and if she wanted to get some work in today, a little light yoga in the morning and maybe a run on a treadmill that she saw the hotel gym had she was going to have to hurry things up.  "I've got all that settled.  I just didn't want to leave the floor and not be able to come back up."

"OK."

The guy at the door nodded and turned to the phone.  "We're set here.  I'll check in with you at eleven like we planned."

"Sounds good."

She watched the guy in front of her for a moment.  "I hate to bother you, but what's your name?"

"Todd," he said, "It's nice to meet you."  He extended a hand to her for her to shake and he engulfed her tiny hand in his.

"Ok," she said and went to push the button for the elevator then paused a moment.  If she was going to survive the next few days and maybe off and on weeks of being with Justin she was going to have to start trying to fit into his world a little, starting now.  "Todd, how'd you get your job here?"

He looked up and down the hallway area.  "Here in the hallway or here as in the tour?"

"The tour."

"My brother's best friend in college works for a crew that does mostly Hollywood types so when I graduated I got a job with him.  I fell into this thing because I was on vacation and a friend of mine bumped into Justin's old manager and got me a job interview with him."

"So this business really is about who you know?"  She sighed.  She knew a little on how Justin had gotten into the industry and she knew from her own experience with the Olympic committee and Fox Sports that there was a lot to be said for being at the right place at the right time, but she wondered if it ever crossed his mind that someone might ever over take his fame, but just dumb luck.  She didn't know what Justin would do if he couldn't perform anymore.

"Yeah," he said with a laugh, "Initially, but you have to back up your qualifications or you'll never get really into it to a point of making a living."

She moved and sat on the floor across from him, deep in thought now.  "Isn't it hard giving up your life for a career that always has you in the background?"

"You're doing some mighty deep thinking for this time of morning."

"Yeah," she said, "Yeah I am."

"It's not that hard to do," he said, "I know what you're thinking...you're new and want to know how you and Justin can stay friends while his life is pulling him all around the country."

"Yeah," she nodded, "I'm being too girlie about this right now."

"It's not girlie," Todd said, "It's practical and logical that you'd think these things now that you know that life isn't all about him partying and being on stage."

"I'm just realizing that I really don't know Justin at all," she said, "I mean I was home with him for a few weeks when he first got hurt.  I live next door and got to see him without all this, but now that I've seen all this I kind of think that I'll never see the "at home" Justin again."

"Honey,"  Todd said, "Justin is "at home" anywhere he goes.  He adapts well to his surroundings and I don't think you should worry about it.  This week is crazy, but the next might be slow.  He deals with it just like you deal with it.  He's just traveling while he does it."

She nodded.  "I guess."

"I think you should go down and get your things out of your car and relax a bit.  You need to think if this all as a treat instead of a burden.  That's what I do.  I mean yeah I miss home and my friends and family, but for the moment this is my home, my friends and my family.  I mean where else can a guy like me get paid extreme amounts of money to sit on my butt and talk to pretty girls?"

Carolina laughed a little and pushed herself up.  "You're right."

He nodded.  "See."

"Well Todd it was nice meeting you.  I hope you don't get too bored out here.  Do you need anything?  A drink...a magazine."

"Nope," he said, "I've got a portable DVD player and someone should be here in two hours to let me go to lunch.  Don't worry about me."

"Ok," she said, "If you change your mind I'll be up in a few minutes."

"Thanks Carolina, but I'm fine."

She stepped into the elevator alone and made it to the first floor in record time.

It was strange to know that she was being watched.  She felt it the moment that she stepped out onto the lobby floor.  She saw more than a few girls turn their heads towards her and whisper.  She normally wouldn't have minded it, but from the looks of their faces, they were talking about how she was with Justin the night before at the party.  She'd thought that it had gone fairly well, but maybe her pulling his shirt up to check his back was something that had set them.  Or maybe it was the way they'd leaned into each other as they "chair danced" or maybe it was just the mere fact that she was alive that was bothering them.

She found her car quickly in the lot and pulled her bag out of the back and went back into the hotel.  She got a few strange looks from the people in the lobby when she came back in.  Her bag had the USA Olympic Emblem on it and she told herself with a bit of pride that she was getting stares because of that, and not because of Justin being a part of her life.  It clearly wasn't something that was true, but at least eased her mind on the way back upstairs.


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